Kurt Vile

B'lieve I'm Goin Down…

Kurt Vile is often narrowly labeled as a musician whose sound conjures up the image of a dreamy stoner making dreamy acoustic tunes in a hazy, smoke filled studio. He actually, for the record, doesn’t even smoke weed, but there are elements of this image which ring true; Vile’s lackadaisical singing voice for one. For the most part though, this perception of Vile is typical of a failure to fully engage with his work, which in actual fact is exploring new and exciting sonic territory all the time.

B’live I’m Going Down…, the sixth studio album from Vile, is no exception. What is striking about this album is how it constantly evokes Smoke Ring For My Halo‘s most tender moments, feeling more intimate and acoustically driven than his recent work. It is interesting to note how certain riffs and lyrics are plucked from Smoke Ring, and used here for more melancholic purposes. He recycles ‘Jesus Fever”s hopeful ideal of the "believers and lovers" and, on the song ‘Kidding Around’, reproduces a picking pattern redolent of Smoke Ring‘s ‘Peeping Tomboy’.

Yet it is also a distinct move away from both Smoke Ring and Wakin On A Pretty Daze, offering a more stripped down sound than that what has come before. This is not to say that Vile does not experiment to a great extent with this album; he takes to the banjo and the piano to create simple, wistful melodies. This stands in contrast to Wakin On A Pretty Daze, in which part of the allure is the multitude of instruments and sounds used to create long, grandiose tracks. The new sound Vile offers us is, at times, despairingly melancholic, signaling one of the most notable ways that the album feels different to his previous material. It is more intimate than what we might expect from Vile. This is not to say that he has previously feigned intimacy, far from it. But with B’lieve I’m Going Down, he puts aside some of the grander, concisely orchestrated moments for an album which feels more like it was recorded in his bedroom.

‘Pretty Pimpin”, the first single taken from the album, is driven by an ambivalent melody which gradually works itself into a frenzy. The lyrics are somewhat downbeat, describing a feeling of alienation ostensibly brought on by the world’s worst hangover. Part of the song’s charm lies in Vile doing the most "Kurt Vile" of voices, when he sings that he "didn’t recognise the boy in the meeeeeeror", showcasing his Philly twang at it’s best. Something must also be said for the role played by Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa who provides the drums for ‘Pretty Pimpin”. It’s not that there is anything particularly complex or exciting about the drums, but they sound so clean, and sit perfectly at the front of the mix throughout most of the album.   

Other particularly melancholic highlights are the tracks ‘Dust Bunnies’ and ‘Wild Imagination’. Here Vile takes on a lamenting tone, sounding heartbroken and frustrated, having apparently taken to looking longingly at pictures of a lost love and imagining all that could have been. We must also marvel at Vile’s ability to create such a clean rock sound which is simultaneously nostalgic and forward-facing. Throughout the album, his electric guitar produces that familiar, satisfying metallic twang which sits so perfectly on top of Vile’s frequent use of the drum machine. However, with tracks like ‘I’m An Outlaw’, his Philly accent is accentuated, more drawn out and somber. If possible, B’lieve I’m Going Down… signals a further maturation and a mellowing out of Vile’s sonics.

It is this pervasive melancholia that is so captivating about this album, signalling the main progression in the sound of B’lieve I’m Going Down…. It feels uncannily like a break up album, playing with elements of the stoner mythos for more melancholic purposes. Although it doesn’t quite live up to the greatness of Smoke Ring, it is a beautiful progression and subtle change in style and subject matter.

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