Kurt Vile’s 6th studio album sees artist expand on previous success

Cloud watching with Kurt


Album: b'lieve i'm goin down...

Artist: Kurt Vile

Release Date: Sept. 25

Grade: B+

Kurt Vile is, undeniably, a rock star. But he’d be the first one to tell you that his idea of stardom doesn’t go much farther than being able to fill a venue, sell some records and to make a living off of music. And just listening to his easygoing music, you get the impression that Vile prefers it that way.

It’s his understated nature that sets him apart from all the other rockers out there; Vile isn’t in it for the fame or the fortunes. His music is an extension of himself – unassuming, self-effacing and above all else, honest.

On Sept. 25, Vile released his newest project b'lieve i'm goin down, his 6th studio album to date.

Album to album, it’s difficult to see significant changes in Vile’s music. His straightforward approach to music making has carried him through his career – his airy, listless guitar riffs, tongue-in-cheek lyricism and affinity for reverb has become his trademark.

On b’lieve, however, there is a sense of discontinuity from his previous sound, almost as if Vile is still trying to discover new parts of himself after all this time.

On “That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say),” Vile sings about life’s ups and downs: “Stay Puft was on top of the world/Then he fell all the way back down naturally/The laws of physics have shown that a man must walk though life via peaks and valleys.”

“Ghostbusters” jokes aside, it’s hard to tell where Vile believes he is in his own life. After 12 years of music making, now a husband and father, Vile’s music career is reaching its peak – and his life, even more so.

“I’ll tell you about my past,” he sings on “Wild Imagination.” “There’s believers and lovers/And druggers and dreamers/And drunkards and schemers/And I’m afraid that I am feeling much too many feelings.”

Coming to grips with failure is one thing, but accepting your own limited success is quite another. It’s as if Vile is trying to keep his life, and his music, from slipping out from his control as time goes on, but also tell himself to calm down and keep it all in perspective.

“Give it some time,” he reminds himself.

Sonically, the album feels like a firm departure from his 2013 Wakin on a Pretty Daze, on which Vile’s sound was atmospheric and muffled, as if recorded in the middle of a cloud. By contrast, b'lieve has a cleaner, more open sound. The heavy-handed reverb is gone, replaced by a bit of folk – banjo – and a bit of alt-rock – piano.

The departure is a welcome one. Despite how much attention Wakin on a Pretty Daze brought him, Vile’s true magic as a musician is how, despite his sonic continuity, his songs never feel stale or overdone.

His head-in-the-clouds persona is so instantly recognizable because it’s genuine – so rarely does a musician’s onstage aesthetic match up so evenly with the person in real life it is no surprise that listening to Vile feels as refreshing as it does.

But in b’lieve, Vile doesn’t seem have his head in the clouds. Instead, the musician can be found sprawled out, relaxing and watching the clouds from below.

Brian Windschitl is the senior arts editor and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.