You can hear the darkness of a late hour in the album.
It is becoming harder and harder to find a quality rock album. The kind of album that is only concerned with making great songs that feel both inevitable and timeless. The kind of album that has an easygoing, low-key vibe where you can hear the musicians letting go in the pursuit of making simple and pure rock songs. On his newest release, b’lieve i’m goin down…, Kurt Vile has channeled the great songwriters of the ‘70s to produce a fun, catchy, sometimes sad and (more than anything) seemingly classic rock album.
John Fahey, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Donald Fagen all come to mind when you listen to b’lieve i’m goin down… . The songs are open to guitar solos in the most traditional sense and expansive enough to bring in some new instruments to add to Vile’s repertoire. You hear a banjo on “I’m an Outlaw,” and “Bad Omens” is a pensive instrumental track composed mostly of piano. This album also shows a more mature side of Vile, especially in his vocal delivery. There is a wilting, almost-talking quality to a lot his vocals, which again contribute to the feeling of a ‘70s album where the unique articulation of lines and the idiosyncrasies of the singer’s vocals almost make the album entirely.
Purportedly, b’lieve i’m goin down… was mostly written at night. More than a sort of conceptual conceit, you can hear the darkness of a late hour in the album. Despite a maturity here that some of his other albums don’t posses, some of the lyrics can be quite funny. On “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say),” a dour track about feeling fake, he sings: “I take pills to take the edge off/ Or to just take a chillax, man, and forget about it/ Just a certified badass out for a night on the town.” But then again, “Wheelhouse” is a touching song with romantic lines like “My baby talks soft, my ears are always ringing now/ Humming a sad song when I’m alone.” There’s a nice mix of melancholy and silliness throughout the album, which contributes to the overall feeling of a classic record; it commits to nothing but perfectly crafted tracks that range in emotions, sound and composition. And throughout, you can see what Vile has long been known for: production quality.
Throughout his career, Kurt Vile has been a sort of outsider figure, a bizarre, nerdy guy who amazed with his guitar playing. Years ago, for Record Store Day, I was able to see him play at the old Kim’s Video & Music (now closed and turned into an organic food store) on First Avenue in New York. I hadn’t really heard of him and Smoke Ring for My Halo had just come out. I remember being blown away by his ability to create these old-school yet wholly new-sounding songs that were at once reminiscent of the great songwriters of the past yet looked ahead at something else no one in the audience could see. This is the place that b’lieve i’m going down was created from.