Album Review: Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin’ down…
b’lieve i’m goin’ down… (Matador)
Kurt Vile’s sixth album is the songwriter’s most self-aware release to date. Scanning the lyric sheet, the Philadelphian longhair spends much of the time outside his own head, curious to analyse his own behaviour with a playful detachment. It’s fitting that an artist renowned for his unhurried aesthetic is so fascinated by his own proclivity for mental wanderings, able to conjure magically captivating imagery from the most basic resources. As b’lieve i’m goin’ down…’s irresistibly sweet closing track puts it, he’s got something of a “wild imagination”. A deep thinker of small thoughts, a perennial daydreamer, and a smoke-ringed mensch of the guitar, Vile possesses the light touch of peers such as Mac DeMarco, but instead of peddling “jizz jazz”, here we have immaculately spangled six-string jams allowed to unfurl over luxuriant runtimes. Across six albums, Vile has concocted an intoxicating daze, and it’s easy to get lost inside of it.
More so than his previous records, b’lieve… moves along at a saunter. There’s nothing nearly as peppy as 2013’s whooping ‘Shame Chamber’, nor are there impressively-tiered slow-burners stretching to ten minutes apiece. Instead, the focus makes a subtle shift from engulfing instrumental sunniness to a more intimate distillation of Vile’s signature charms. Recorded in ten different studios with a fluid cast of supporting players, b’lieve… takes a leisurely journey through the landscapes of Vile’s mind, and while the pace slackens in several pockets along the way (most noticeably in the album’s second half), Vile’s MO has always been album-oriented rock music, rather than a string of punchy four-minute capsules.
Opener ‘Pretty Pimpin’ sets the stall by blurring the line between brilliance and lethargy. Vile’s deceptively simple observations gradually wear on the ears, as the hypnotic undertow of entwined guitars trundles along, granted a sharp resolution courtesy of Rob Schnapf and the unwavering tubthumping of Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa. What at first sounds almost lazily rudimentary soon reveals its knowing smile, as Vile’s story of “the man in the mirror” unspools in a dreamlike haze. “I proceeded to not comb some stranger’s hair / It never was my style” he mumbles, and the grin playing at the corner of his mouth is discernible even through the recording. The same affable wiseguy attitude prevails throughout b’lieve, Vile’s humour constantly overriding any sense of ego. “What’s there to feel but totally whacked?” he asks amid the Wurlitzer fug of ‘Dust Bunnies’, before fixating on “the painfully obvious” one track later, and namechecking “a little funky psychosis” on ‘Lost My Head There’. His grip may not be particularly firm, but Vile’s personality has an appeal that sets b’lieve… in good stead for repeat listens.
Less instrumentally cossetting than Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, b’lieve… sounds slighter than its two immediate predecessors. There’s nothing to match the enveloping warmth heard in the likes of ‘Goldtone’, leaving Vile’s laidback drawl to take greater eminence in the mix. Nevertheless, b’lieve… is hardly bereft of flavour: the winking ‘I’m an Outlaw’ is tickled by a fingerpicked banjo, and the loose, nursery piano heard on ‘Lost My Head There’ coaxes the singer into one of his most sanguine outings. Additionally, his acoustic tones have never sounded as crisp: the arpeggios of ‘That’s Life Tho (Almost Hate to Say)’ sound dusty with Mojave sands, and ‘All in a Daze Work’ twangs with an oaky clarity. In the moments when Vile himself doesn’t have much to report, it’s enough to marvel at his fingers gliding dexterously over the fretboard.
The wisecracks and sky-gazing observations are all present and correct, but what will keep listeners returning after multiple listens is the mellifluousness of Vile’s knack for melodies. He shrugs off as much in ‘Kidding Around’: “ain’t it funny when others try to tell you what you’re trying to do? / But I’m all ears, clearly, have you not been listening to my pretty song?” The complete effect may not be as beguiling as that of … Pretty Daze, but for the bulk of its sixty minutes, b’lieve I’m Goin’ Down… delivers prettiness in spades. For KV, it’s all in a daze work.
“He was always a thousand miles away / While still standing in front of your face.”
Posted on October 2, 2015, in The Music World and tagged Album Review, All in a Daze Work, b'lieve i'm goin' down..., Dust Bunnies, Kurt Vile, Mac DeMarco, Matador, Pretty Pimpin, Stella Mozgawa, Wakin' on a Pretty Daze, Wild Imagination. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.