Kurt Vile is prolific. From his debut solo album Constant Hitmaker in 2008 to Bottle it In a decade later, Vile released eight albums, including the career propelling B’lieve I’m Going Down and the collab album he recorded with Courtney Barnett, Lotta Sea Lice. Add in 18 EPs—including the Speed, Sound, Lonely KV EP with John Prine—in those years (plus a few on either side) and one could conclude the name of his first solo album was not only cheeky self-promotion, but also a premonition.
But Vile, like many artists (and, indeed, all of us) took a break from his seemingly constant schedule of recording and touring. This year, Vile released his first album in four years, (watch my moves), which showcases his talent as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter, and revels in Vile’s trademark “fried pop” sound.
“My favorite pastime these days is sitting drinking coffee in the morning post-breakfast by the window, reading and listening to Sun Ra, sun shining through the forest trees,” Vile says in comments accompanying the album release. “In that moment, it’s all the traveling I’ll ever need. This record encapsulates all that—letting two years roll by and staying in my zone, traveling all the while in my brain, at the piano or in my guitar.”
(watch my moves) is awash in the airy synths and lightly distorted guitar you’ve come to expect, but there are plenty of surprising moments. Like, right off the bat. “Goin on a Plane Today” features Vile’s earnest vocals atop a simple but transfixing, oscillating piano line. It’s a song that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and a clean start to an album that drips and explores Vile’s sonic sensibilities.
The percussion on “Flyin (Like a Fast Train)” picks you up and, layered with multi-textured guitars, brings you back into the prototypical Vile universe. It’s hard not to be attracted to Vile’s lyrics, sung in his rounded, colloquial, laid-back manner, particularly when they give hints as to what the last couple years have been like for the indefatigable artist. He sings: “Playing in the music room in my underwear, feeling fine and then my psyche crumble, pell-mell, stumble. I been bamboozled. Better watch out, we got vampires lurkin’.”
“It’s about songwriting. It’s about lyrics. It’s about being the master of all domains in the music,” says Vile of the album. He recorded it in his home studio in Philly with his backing group, The Violators, and Rob Schnapf (who co-produced) and James Stewart.
Typical of Vile’s songs, the album swells and ebbs in sound and intensity. “Palace of OKV in Reverse,” a nod to his home recording studio, brings waves of three synth chords layered with plodding strings in the background. “Like Exploding Stones” brings in even more distortion, while providing some of the best hooks on the album—makes sense, it was the first single from the album. It’s hooky yet spacey, earnest and abstract; in short, it’s singularly Vile.
“I’m always thinking about catchy music, even though it’s fried, or sizzled, out,” Vile says. “It’s my own version of a classic thing—it’s moving forward and backward at the same time.”
You’ll get lost in the album upon the first listen, and come back to it like a moth attracted to a porch light on a summer evening. Some tracks linger more than others, like “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone),” which pairs melancholic, weepy guitar with an upbeat drum track and Vile’s voice hitting all parts of his register, looping up and down like a slide whistle. Weak and deep in parts, strong and high in others, Vile maximizes his abilities as a singer, while pairing it masterfully with the slip-sliding guitars.
Vile stays in the pocket throughout most of the album, but pops of difference help keep you guessing throughout; “Cool Water” eschews the fried, fuzzy and flowing guitars for a cleaner style that lays the musicians’ playing bare. It’s a refreshing sip of cool water, to be obvious. And in “Say the Word,” an upbeat drum cadence brings energy when you need it late in the album—one imagines the song would sound completely different if not for the snappy snare keeping everything in line.
Vile’s wrapping up his spring tour in support of the album, which included 24 shows in May, a typically prodigious amount of shows that, in concert with this thoughtful album, indicate Vile’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Vile plays in New York City at Webster Hall on June 1 and 2, and in Philly at Union Transfer on June 3 and 4. Get tickets here. Listen to the new album wherever you listen to good music.