In a recent interview about this new album, Kurt Vile declared himself enthusiastic about a way of working in which “you just record something super fast with some keyboard, guitar or whatever you have on hand, and… you’d be surprised at the result. Because when you compose it’s about not thinking at all, just capturing it quickly. Like Sun Ra, who recorded absolutely everything”. The result of that philosophy is this new and long album by the American musician, which distributes 15 of his songs -according to the format- on a double vinyl, a CD filled to the brim, or an hour or quarter streaming.
Without being enemies of Vile’s “automatic” approach, nor of the recorders scattered throughout his home-studio to capture every possible moment of inspiration, what we can question is the quality control of the resulting material. It seems that Verve (the musician’s brand new label) has given him absolute freedom, which he has taken advantage of to experiment more than ever with his loop pedals. That’s where this album was born, which alternates two types of songs: on the one hand, looped sequences of three, four chords, repeated in a circular and hypnotic way while Vile sings or recites melodies that seem slightly improvised. On the other, songs with a more classic cut, with a more rounded verse and chorus finish. Both facets combine very well and give a priori variety to a type of music that in itself tends to be quite monotonous (most of them follow in one way or another the classic 4×4 beat of pop-rock (“tum, pa, tum- tum, pa”). But fifteen songs have to be very good so as not to make up an album of irregular quality.
Vile is an efficient guitarist with good ideas, so when looped songs work, as in the case of ‘Palace of OKV in Reverse’, or the brilliant ‘Like Exploding Stones’, it doesn’t matter if the melody is half-spoken. , or the somewhat insubstantial lyrics: that sweet escalation in which the instruments add to each other and the song grows slowly, almost meditatively, is very seductive. Even if it’s the same 4 chords for 7 minutes, the cosmic journey of guitars and keyboards interwoven in delicious reverbs doesn’t take long. It is even a refreshing antidote for those who are tired of today’s hyperactive pop based on intro-pre-chorus-chorus-post-chorus-outro.
The same goes for the very captivating looping chord pair at the album’s close, the delicate ‘Stuffed Leopard’, which rambles delightfully for 7 minutes. When the music works, you digest well those lyrics that seem to be invented on the fly, and you tolerate the very repetitive metamusical references (“on ‘Song for my Father’ I plagiarized ‘Ricky Don’t Lose / and these chords who played them first?” ).
The problem is when the songs, without being bad, are more mediocre: when the music stays in “no more” is when the lyrics about things exploding in your head or flowing through your body or changing colors end up being even more inconsequential and especially the meta-observations of the «slacker» life (“playing in the music room in my gayumbos…”). In addition to making the certainty that “record the first thing that comes out as quickly as possible” works in all cases, it is very doubtful. This is the case of ‘Fo Sho’, a totally forgettable three-chord loop, whose lyrics almost seem like an unconscious confession: “Even if I don’t get it right, I’m going to keep singing my song, until dawn / I’m going to crack another cool poem in my notebook. yellow leaves / And it’s probably going to be another long song, and even if I don’t hit it I’m still going to sing my song / long song”.
On the other hand, the classic songs have precious moments, as in the album’s central trio: the Neil Youngesca ‘Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)’, with its lazy tempo and delicious “slide” guitars, recalls the best of the catalog Kurt’s previous. ‘Hey Like A Child’ also shines with its exciting chord sequence, Tom Verlaine-esque arpeggios and romantic slacker lyrics (“Like a child, you waltzed into my life / Like a ray of sunshine you shine into my life / like a light high, I feel good”).
‘Jesus on a Wire’ narrates a funny scene of Jesus Christ on the phone, nervous, overwhelmed thinking about how much it’s going to cost him to “get the world out of this”, while Kurt wants to tell him that he also often feels alone. The beautiful melody and the hypnotic guitars -with the addition of juicy acoustics- work especially well in that repetitive minute and a half finale, in which a piano appears that levitates those two simple chords. It is perhaps the moment in which Vile most successfully manages to combine the two facets of the album.
But from there, the record becomes even more uneven. For every nice ‘Cool Water’ (with its liquid guitars) or ‘Chazzy Don’t Mind’ (featuring Chastity Belt’s Julia Shapiro) there’s a boring ‘Say the Word’ or instrumental interludes that don’t add much. And the fact that the best composition on the album is a discard of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ (the excellent ‘Wages of Sin’) makes it clear that despite the brilliant moments, none of the songs is first class. Invoking Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ in the lyrics doesn’t help with comparisons either.
‘(watch my moves)’ would make a remarkable 9 or 10 song album, but it is too self-indulgent in its final format. Homage to the bulimic length of CDs in the 90s? Is it our declining attention threshold to blame? I have no doubt that the fans of Kurt Vile will be dazzled by the album, and will enjoy every nook and cranny of it. But for the average listener, or for the curious who are interested in this artist for the first time, the dimensions are excessive and as a consequence the average level of quality ends up suffering.