Since 2015’s ‘b’lieve I’m going down’, off-kilter hero Kurt Vile has supported his spiritual forebear Neil Young, recorded an album of duets with long-haired mirror image Courtney Barnett (last year’s ‘Lotta Sea Lice’) and received the ultimate indie accolade – being a question on a gameshow that nobody can answer. “The Violators assist this ‘Pretty Pimpin’’ rocker in his foul work’ was the clue on a college-themed edition of US quiz Jeopardy, as the contestants presumably conferred with the tumbleweed that had entered the studio.
Yet this seems apt, for Kurt’s funny, smart, 420-friendly stream-of-conscious lyrics can often leave you scratching your head. His seventh solo album, ‘Bottle It In’, was recorded around America amid family road-trips, and, at a marathon 80-minutes long, the results are suitably expansive.
On opener ‘Loading Zones’, he offers a life-hack on how to escape parking meter-charges by using loading bays, jauntily coming across like REM-meets-NCP. The winning, spaced-out ‘Bassackwards’ is a nearly 10-minute meander that recalls being out of his mind on a friend’s radio show. Mirroring the space-cadet subject matter, he appears to be constantly losing his train of thought (which often requires a bus replacement service). He covers country MOR-rocker Charlie Rich’s ‘Rollin With The Flow’, a song about being an eternal outlaw while those around you are lost to domesticity, and there’s a sly wit to the 38-year-old father of two crooning, “All guys my age just raising kids / I’m raising hell just like I did.”
His most sonically varied album, ‘Bottle it In’ includes the banjo-assisted hallucinatory hoe-down ‘Come Down’; backing vocals from Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa (the bouncy, loved-up paean to friendship ‘One Trick Ponies’); and one track that sounds like a hair metal song waking up from a coma (‘Check Baby’). Elsewhere, on ‘Mutinies’, Kim Gordon provides what she colourfully terms “acoustic guitar distortion” ; it’s a tender, beautifully introspective track about taking anti-depressants to quell the voices in your head.
As its Vile’s longest album, there are occasional longueurs, where his melody-scaffolding isn’t strong enough to support the drawl and haze. There’s a fine line between “hypnotic drone” and “just plain boring”, and the fuzz-drenched ‘Cold Was The Wind’ has its toe firmly on it. The album veers close to outstaying its welcome; you can occasionally feel like you’re sobering up at a house party. Yet this is still an idiosyncratic work from a true one-off. Those trivia-loving contestants, having not heard of him, missed out on more than a cash prize.