Photo by Marina Chavez
With a broad style that can evoke both Pavement and Petty, punk rock and the Dead, the languorous music of Kurt Vile has always been classified by a broad range of descriptions.
However, Vile is rarely credited with creating much nostalgia with his songs, perhaps in part to his deadpan humor and the relaxed, detached tenor of his voice. Yet with his latest album, b’lieve i’m going down, Vile reaches a new level of self-reflection, hitting upon precious moments of poignancy that were absent in his earlier work. The dry wit is still there, but it’s now complemented by introspection.
“I don’t think I consciously wrote this album to be nostalgic, but it’s kind of hard not to sometimes,” said Vile. “All you can do with your life is look back on it. I get nostalgic about what happened three months ago. But that can be a good thing—in my mind, nostalgia is the ultimate emotional currency in music.”
Vile’s life has certainly changed in the last several years, particularly following the release of 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze, which landed on the Top 10 of numerous year-end music lists. That album, which featured sunny, upbeat tracks characterized by inventive and lengthy guitar solos, could have been the template for future successful Vile creations.
But for b’lieve i’m going down, Vile turned more insular, showcasing previously-absent instruments like piano and banjo to foster a hushed atmosphere. Songs like “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say),” “All in a Daze Work,” and “Wheelhouse” are new types of entries into Vile’s oeuvre—bedroom music for adults. Those arrangements are dreamy affairs powered by simplistic, yet appropriate guitar play that contain wistful moments abutted by Vile’s surrealist humor.
For example, in “That’s Life, tho,” Vile pines to run innocently in the hills, but he’s afraid of the scorpions out there. He also meditates on life’s peaks and valleys by noting that the Stay Puft man (of Ghostbusters fame) once stood at the top of the world before he came crashing down. The lyrics may seem throwaway, but Vile’s earnest delivery adds unexpected depth to the words.
The composition of words actually plays an important role in Vile’s aesthetic. He said the decision to title his new album in lowercase letters and informal style was a reflection of how communications have become truncated in the information age.
“I’ve always been interested in words and how they’re delivered, and how their meaning can change based on their delivery or spelling,” said Vile. “Everything is abbreviated now, or shortened to the point where meaning can be lost. For the title, I actually wanted to create a one-syllable version of “believe,” as a way of mimicking how Townes Van Zandt and guys like him would have said it. I’ve claimed creation to that word, even though I’m sure some blues musician used that same spelling like 50 years ago.”
Vile also managed to include his favorite word twist, substituting “daze” for “days” once again for “All in a Daze Work.”
“I feel like that’s appropriate, because I’m always in a daze,” said Vile, whose approachable demeanor in interviews mirrors his unpretentious musical stylings.
Vile will bring that authentically-accessible attitude to San Francisco on October 15 and 16, when he plays at Slim’s and the Fillmore, respectively (the shows are both sold out, but tickets are available on secondary markets.) Vile said he and his band— The Violators — are still trying to figure out how to incorporate the new instrumentation aspects of b’lieve i’m going down into their live performances.
“We’re lucky that my music is not super structured, so no one can really tell when we’re screwing up,” said Vile. “The live renditions of these news songs are definitely going to evolve over time. For now, we’re hoping that we just come off as endearingly raw.”