Release Date: Sep 25, 2015
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It's not "yeah," "baby," or even "love" anymore. It's "woo!" This generation of rock and roll musicians cling to it in their faith that the genre still lives and breathes. Whether it's John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees using it to rally psychedelic madness or The War on Drug's Adam Granduciel using it to battle his anxiety on 'Red Eyes', "woo" keeps promoting genuine 21st century guitar music.
Kurt Vile has a persona, and you know him by now: He is the weird quiet kid in the corner, the one who seems at first lost in his own world and disconnected from everything around him, but turns out to be smart, observant, and low-key hilarious. So while his albums draw you in with the vibe—the impeccably recorded and mixed songs that shuffle bits of folk, new wave, or country in the mix but are always squarely down-the-middle rock—you return to them for their human qualities, the way they offer a manner of seeing the world, a glimpse at a perspective that feels both voyeuristic and easy to connect to your own life. You have to feel for Vile when he does early interviews for one of his records and he’s asked to characterize them.
Pretty Pimpin’ must be one of Kurt Vile’s loveliest songs yet, and a great summation of his ingenious-weirdo appeal: the lolloping, tangling twang of that earworming central guitar hook; the glorious way his lead vocal climbs as the backing vocal falls; the stupid-clever, sober-stoner musings on doing a double-triple-quadruple-take at “the man in the mee-rror” – at a time when “slacker rock” threatens to become a cliche all over again 20 years on, Vile has charm, character and imagination enough to elevate his fully reclined, dusty-haze style to something really special. His sixth album is perhaps a smaller-scale, slower burn than 2013’s Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze: the likes of That’s Life, Tho and Stand Inside take a few listens to reveal their unobvious melodic logic, but when they do, they hit hard; Lost My Head There adds goofy, spacey squelches to a pitched-down Steely Dan piano-plonk, with Stella (Warpaint) Mozgawa’s uncannily hypnotic, heavy-light drumming providing a peculiar, woozy momentum. If Vile is going down, he’s going down swinging.
Smoke Ring for My Halo remains a lasting statement of purpose and Wakin on a Pretty Daze was a massively generous comfort blanket of an album, but with b'lieve i'm goin down..., Kurt Vile finally has gotten down to the essence of what he's been searching for since the beginning. Yet what he's found is something mutable and indefinable; these slowly unfurling songs are vast spaces Vile architected in order to give his wandering mind a place to sort itself out. More than ever, his words suggest a meditative river of thought, with stray ideas frequently branching out to form new channels.
‘b’lieve i’m goin down’ flits between Kurt Vile’s rich solo work and the layered compositions of his full-band The Violators, the difference being notable, yet equivalently frank and enthralling. Vile’s singular experiments combine his familiar finger-picked progressions with an air of pensive deliberation, the full-band dynamic thriving from the indelibly affirming melodies of lead-guitar, synth or the purposefully sudden introduction of bold piano to his forte. While feeling the contrast in emotions, his honest, open outlook is what makes his music so compelling, giving ‘b’lieve’ its cohesive quality.
On b'lieve I'm goin down… Kurt Vile takes his time, and he takes it easy. Even upbeat opener "Pretty Pimpin" feels like a laidback road tune: long hair whipping in the breeze, windows down, one hand on the wheel, driving calmly toward something big. It sounds like a gaze into existential crises, as evidenced by the lyrics, as Vile realizes the guy in the mirror staring back at him is himself: "Then I proceeded to brush some stranger's teeth, but they were my teeth, and I was weightless."What follows is similarly contemplative, especially sonically.
The opening track on Kurt Vile’s sixth album B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down, “Pretty Pimpin’” is such a perfect distillation of his ethos, and that of the album: self-doubt, determination and bittersweet humor. He looks in a mirror and wonders who he’s looking at, doesn’t recognize himself. He ponders the person whose teeth he’s brushing, wonders who the fool is, recognizes the clothes he’s wearing and decides he looks good, adopting a silly new catchphrase of self-motivation: telling himself he’s “pretty pimpin’”.
Released in 2013, Kurt Vile & The Violators’ album Wakin On A Pretty Daze drew considerable critical acclaim from all quarters. The collection marked a change of direction for Vile, with warped electric guitar soloing coming to the forefront as he continued his journey after earlier comparisons to Woody Guthrie, Bob Seger and Nick Drake. 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo was the first album to threaten a breakthrough, an album where Vile felt he significantly matured as an artist, but Wakin On A Pretty Daze took his career one huge step further.
Kurt Vile scored a genuine word-of-mouth hit with his fifth album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, its elongated rambles conjuring hazy half-memories of Laurel Canyon while feeling uniquely situated to modern confines. B'lieve I'm Goin Down..., released two years after that 2013 breakthrough, whittles away some of the excesses while retaining eccentricity, trading ten-minute sprawls with six-strings for woozy five-minute vamps on a piano. Electric guitars aren't entirely absent but they're used for coloring -- arriving unexpectedly as a wash of distortion or perhaps a bit of percussion -- on a record anchored by acoustic guitars and banjos.
“I could be one thousand miles away / But still mean what I say. ” That’s a line that many reviews of the latest Kurt Vile album, b’lieve i’m goin down…, are likely to latch onto and extrapolate from (or should, at least). No other lyric from b’lieve better encapsulates the dynamic at work in Vile’s songwriting: that of the level-headed daydreamer, someone whose perspective remains down-to-earth even as his head finds a cloud to rest upon.
In the video for “KV Crimes”, a highlight from his 2013 album Wakin on a Pretty Daze, Kurt Vile rode around Philadelphia on a throne, his flowing brown locks topped with a plastic crown. He was fed a royal meal of a Wawa hoagie, he sleepily waved at followers, and he rolled his eyes at giggling sycophants. The critical acclaim for the record justified his place as the slacker king of Philly, but even as he rode the wave of adoration, he seemed aloof — the endearing, lovable kind that seems inherently tied to his dazed, hazed stream-of-consciousness songwriting.
Philadelphian songwriter Kurt Vile has crafted such a definitive identity for himself that it’s easy to forget he used to be a part of The War On Drugs. Over the course of his past six studio albums (the last four of which came courtesy of Matador Records), Vile continued to grow out his hair, as well as his slacker-rock style. On b’lieve i’m goin down…, Vile set out to return to his earlier, bedroom (or at least living room couch-ridden) sad songs.
The title of Kurt Vile’s sixth solo LP, b’lieve i’m goin down…, is spelt and punctuated exactly as you see it here. It’s a familiar phrase, well-worn in various forms by folkies from here to Leadbelly. It’s far from the only such phrase used on the album: Vile also claims outlaw status, then later utters manifold “I’m a-gonna” sweet nothings directly into his baby’s ear.
When Kurt Vile announced his latest LP, he described its sound as “all over the place”, citing that he now feels comfortable enough within his own songwriting to “sort of tap into every world and make it sound cohesive. ” It has become very difficult to disagree with his proficiency as a songwriter, with Vile’s previous work boasting an incessant ability to effortlessly find an exquisite hook, and an unerring ability to unfurl lyrics of utmost sensibility in uncomplicated fashion. With b’lieve i’m goin down, Vile is on appropriately unhurried form, wheeling out over an hour’s worth of handsome finger-pickers and Appalachian influenced folk tunes.
Kurt Vile's B'lieve I'm Goin Down receives a compact internal synopsis near the start of “Lost My Head There,” via this shaggy couplet: “I was feeling worse than the words come out/Fell on some keys, and this song walked outta me. ” Delivered in Vile's trademark muted snarl over a midtempo drumbeat layered with a simple piano melody, these two lines sum up the album's defining duality, its ongoing tension between louche lethargy and obscured emotional catharsis. The 12 tracks here don't seem to develop very much, embracing repetitive harmonic structures and a fuzzy, outwardly inarticulate lyrical style, but Vile's mumbly delivery is deceptive.
Kurt Vile's most introspective LP is the sound of a guitar hero plumbing existential doubt without wanting to wake the kids. His folk roots, defined by his signature finger-style picking, are plainer than ever: He zones out on banjo ("I'm an Outlaw") and resonator guitar ("All in a Daze Work"), woos his beloved with nods to Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel ("Stand Inside"), and plays West African blues against lap-steel moans ("Wheelhouse"). Lyrically, he's a seeker, but he could stand to get out more — "My whole world turnin' on the couch," he testifies at one point.
There’s a sad, all-too familiar irony that grips many a career in pop and rock. That is, having spent years in the wilderness, striving to crack an entry into the collective consciousness and claim the identity they’ve always wanted for themselves, a long roll-call of musicians have found that success merely divorces them from the only identity they ever had. This seems to be the complaint Kurt Vile is suffering from on his sixth album, b’lieve i’m going down…, in which his lonely Americana and slovenly folk yields the perfect backdrop for oblique tales of how his assumption to rockstardom has done less to cement his tenuous sense of self and more to dissolve it even further.
Kurt Vile’s been carving out his own singular niche since his nascent days recording for Gulcher and Mexican Summer, releasing limited edition LPs such as Constant Hitmaker and God Is Saying To You, while still moonlighting with The War On Drugs when the former LP was released. His artistic breakthrough, along with the slow ending of the incessant comparisons to The War On Drugs, began when he signed with Matador in 2009 and released Childish Prodigy, to this day perhaps his most underrated album, but the one which gained him indie luminary fans such as Kim Gordon and Bradford Cox. He’s struck creative gold from that point onward, veering from strength to strength on the likes of the concise, soft-hewn pop of 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, to the elongated, Crazy Horse-esque jams of Wakin On A Pretty Daze.
Never mind its title or the first single's cracker-barrel chorus. Kurt Vile's sixth LP ups the Philadelphian's creative ante, speckling finger-plucked finesse and Farfisa whimsy into his laid-back blues/folk crunch. Lyrically, the former War on Drugs guitarist stays on topic: out on tour, back on couch. Witty and self-aware, the father-of-two's goofy drawl belies true weight: "I'm an outlaw under Orion's Belt / What a dumb thing to sing," he self-shames in "I'm an Outlaw." Like Dylan, Young, and Springsteen, the 35-year-old's dichotomous old soul/hipster amalgam recalls eccentric sagacity.
Kurt Vile has woken up on yet another pretty daze and he doesn’t recognize the man in the mirror, or at least so begins his sixth studio album B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down. But hey, that new guy in the mirror wearing his clothes looks “Pretty Pimpin.” It’s a fitting metaphor for Vile’s new LP. Rest assured, Vile has maintained his easygoing brand of breezy folk-rock and foolish philosophy, but his songwriting exhibits a precision and directness not seen on previous releases.
“I woke up this morning/ Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror/ Then I laughed and I said, ‘Oh silly me, that’s just me.’ ” God bless Kurt Vile. Few artists in indie rock make self-deprecation and desolation quite as catchy and humorous as the Philadelphia-bred singer and songwriter does. Taken from “Pretty Pimpin,” those lines are the first words you hear on Vile’s exceptional new album, “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.
Kurt Vile and I have been fighting for a while. When Smoke Ring for My Halo came out, I preached its gospel to anyone who would listen; I saw him twice in concert in the span of a year; I had full-blown Kurt-mania. Then Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze firmly dulled my fervor—a couple of listens, and it sits on the shelf (my feelings spelled out more clearly here).
If you’re the type of person perfectly content to receive the same Christmas present every year, you should probably get into Kurt Vile. Few songwriters’ sonic output is so consistent while also adding depth to a narrow framework. Vile has said of his sixth solo full-length that he “wanted to get back into the habit of writing a sad song on my couch, with nobody waiting on me.” So the vibe is a little more downtrodden, and the Philly singer/songwriter sounds a little lazier compared to past releases, most notably the banjo-laced I’m An Outlaw.