(watch my moves) Just Might Be Kurt Vile's Best Record Yet
One of the most underrated songwriters of the last decade makes his major label jump with stunningly chilled-out results
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“Even if I'm wrong,
Gonna sing-a-my song,
'Til the ass crack o' dawn,
And it's prolly gonna be another long song,
On his ninth album and the fourth decade on earth, Kurt Vile sounds like he’s figured himself out. Take these lyrics from the song “Fo Sho,” which find Vile acknowledging that he’s never in much of a hurry to get anywhere musically.
Vile has always embraced his signature original brand of laid-back stoner rock, which often features stream-of-consciousness lyrics over lethargic grooves. Still, on his latest (watch my moves), Vile may have perfected the formula. Strangely, the revelation arrives with what is also his major-label debut, having moved to Verve Records (owned by Universal Music Group) after an incredible run on Merge. So often, the big label jump can derail a one-of-a-kind act like Vile. Luckily, Verve is more known as a jazz label, an idea that doesn’t necessarily fit Vile’s singer-songwriter career but does embrace his free-spirit approach to exploring whatever corner of his brain seems amusing at the moment.
Signing with Verve also coincided with the early days of the pandemic, which forced the always-on tour musician to hang low, and resulted in Vile building a home studio at his Philly home. I appreciate reviewing so many records over this past year plus about the horrors of the pandemic, but it’s fun to have Vile present something that brings a little light to an otherwise dour period. Whether paying tribute to his neighborhood on “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)” or singing about his daughter’s toy on the windowsill while listening to The Boss on “Stuffed Leopard” (watch my moves) is one joyful “at home” record. The home studio referencing song, “Palace of OKV in Reverse,” touches more on the idea, with Vile singing, “Palace of OKV in reverse / Dreamin’ up a storm in my soul / There’s a great flood of blood pumpin’ through to my heart / That goes out to the world.”
While former bandmates The War on Drugs trimmed down the jams on their major label record from last year (read my mixed results review here), Vile’s embrace of the home studio and Verve’s seeming willingness to let the indie vet do as he please works spectacularly. I admittedly hit a Kurt Vile wall while at a show touring his previous record, Bottle It In. I’m well onto the second hand for counting the times I’ve seen Vile live, but some of the meanderings on that album didn’t click with me. (watch my moves) is still lengthy both in songs and runtime, but somehow Vile may have his best record by doubling down on being himself and letting these melodies wander. It’s the kind of record you can put on in the background for any occasion and let KV serenade you whether you’re engaged or not.
The first single, “Like Exploding Stones,” may be the quintessential Kurt Vile song, as he throws concern for tempo out the window and fills the seven-minute track with lyrical nuggets like, “Thoughts runnin’ round my cranium like pinball machine-a-mania.” Everything here is absolutely vital, including the few interludes and another ode to Bruce Springsteen with a stunning cover of “Wages of Sin,” an E-Street song cut from Born in the U.S.A.
Kurt Vile is one of the great singer-songwriters of the past decade, and it seems odd to be considering the possibility that someone’s ninth album may be their best, but (watch my moves) is Vile as his most complete package yet.
(watch my moves) is available now on Verve Records.
I really like Vile's work, but like anything (I guess) it's best in moderation. if I go too far down a rabbit hole of his music, I wind up with a hangover.
I put this album on the other day but got interrupted during the first song which I thought was actually quite strange. Hopefully, the rest of the album is better.