Imagine the hottest, most humid day of the summer. One of those days where the air feels like jelly, and it’s easy to sit in front of the A / C unit for hours, watching the air blow in and out. You’re sitting on the porch of a cottage near some body of water, listening to the cicadas buzz loudly through the evening’s soft glow. A radio is playing inside the house, faintly muted Americana flowing through the open screen door that’s torn in a few places. You take a sip of beer, lean back in your rocking chair and fade into the night, staring off at nothing in particular, comforted and happy. This is what it’s like to listen to Kurt Vile’s new record Bottle It In: an aimlessly successful collection of psychedelic folk that captures the happiness of uncertainty in amber, sunlight shining through even its darkest moments.
From the beginning of his career, Vile has truly proven himself to be the king of good vibes, consistently pushing out mellow jams that give listeners a glimpse into his rambling mind. Between his skill for fingerpicking, hazy psychedelia and his country drawl, the songwriter’s penchant for creating mood is unmatched on Bottle It In, a record that is as meaningful as it is irresolute. Kurt Vile’s seventh solo album is patchworked together, yet that’s its greatest asset. At face value, Bottle It In seems haphazard ― each song follows its own twisting path through Vile’s psyche, stumbling upon nuggets of wisdom and funny quips alike in an endless daze. The warm ambiance of Vile’s music is present in all of his albums, but here he has achieved a perfect balance: His untethered consciousness is both amplified and grounded by expansive arrangements of guitar and harp.
“I was on the ground but looking straight into the sun / But the sun went down and I couldn’t find another one / For a while,” he sings on album highlight “Bassackwards,” a tangential thought that freezes one summer moment in time. The virtue of Vile’s music is in his stream of consciousness, one that can go from “Oh girl, you gave me rabies / And I don’t mean maybe” in “Hysteria” to the “Don’t tell them / That you love them / For your own sake” of title track “Bottle It In” and make the two lines just as heartfelt. Though Bottle It In may cover love, friendship, loneliness and everything in between, the tie between every song is Vile’s honesty with himself and his audience. The singer is unabashedly on-brand in sound and subject matter throughout the record, and it works for him ― the ephemeral quality of his ambient guitar and off-hand lyrics veer from bright to solemn quickly, but everything rests on a foundation of truth.
It can often be said that the first three minutes of a Kurt Vile song will tell you enough about it to stop paying attention. For those who only appreciate his music for its chill nature and sweet guitar riffs, this is easy to accept, to turn it on and zone out. Of course, this is part of Vile’s allure ― but beneath the reverb and soft percussion is a poignant message of accepting life as it comes. To him, life is “just like a song if the repeats were long” (“One Trick Ponies”), and he has a point. Everyone is floating through the years just like Vile moves from one atmospheric jam to the next trying to find his own sun, watching it fade into the horizon and waiting for the dawn to come back again.