Archives for posts with tag: Kurt Vile

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Writing that top 50 album list last year almost killed me. About two fifths of the way through it I realised that that writing a magazine length end of the year feature all alone, without a giant staff of writers to help me find more synonyms for “awesome”, wasn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had. But my desire to write about Slaughterhouse and Tramp kept me going. I don’t regret it, but just the idea of trying to write another makes me nauseous. Hitting publish did give me a certain perspective on those kinds of year end features though, and I’ve kept that in mind as I’ve been scrolling through each sites list in the past few weeks.

Those first few lists show that this year has been as wealthy as any other, but they also made me realise that most of the major-think-piece-inspiring albums left with me with at least a vague sense of hollowness. I’d happily wipe The Next Day out of existence for a Bowie megahits tour, and–even though his guest slot on the title track is one of my favourite moments of the year–something about Reflektor didn’t quite do it for me. And doesn’t it already feel like My Bloody Valentine’s return was 22 year ago? I came to enjoy the months were the release calendar slowed all the way down and I could delve into my backlog. I’ve most enjoyed getting lost in Bill Callahan’s discography for the first time and The Replacement’s for the millionth.

It’s pretty clear that deciding on an album of the year is insane. I haven’t given the majority of my 2012 top 50 a spin since last December. As desperate as I am for a new Sharon Van Etten album, I only gave Tramp a few full listens after placing it in my top spot. I returned most frequently to Ty Segall’s fantastic trio and Lower Den’s Nootropics. That makes me apprehensive to even bother trying to put my thoughts down and needlessly rank 50 things that I love. Given the fluidity of taste, it’s a much too final and overly definitive statement.

But I still read every list I can find, there fun to read. You can relive the year, maybe find something you missed, or just search for personal validation. So I’m doing it again, just not with 50 (if you really want to know what my full top 50 is you can find it here). So here’s my list of top 10 favourites, plus a few honourable mentions. Just don’t take it too seriously; I made that mistake last year.

Two Scrappy Rock Reissues:

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Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
People quickly warmed to the Lo-Fi Swagger of Parquet Courts after a quick January reissue of their 2012 debut album gave them a second chance to come bursting through the gate. Their somehow equal parts loose and tight sound snaps together perfectly on the 1-2 rush of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”, blending a precise percussive drive with a detached but domineering vocal style. The sustained pounding repetition of “Stoned and Starving” slams the song’s drug addled desperation straight into your brain. Each song is carried by their ceaseless momentum; they use pure energy to build an intensity that most bands find in volume or heaviness. It’ll be a joy to see how far it can carry them.
Best Songs: “Borrowed Time”, “Light Up Gold II”, “Picture of Health”

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King Tuff – Was Dead
King Tuff’s apparently beloved (but seldom heard) debut Was Dead is a sweet and scrappy record that I couldn’t stop playing. After initially being released to quiet acclaim in various cassette and vinyl forms since 2008, Burger Records finally made it available in a non-nefarious way. With glossy guitar lines and syrupy vocal hooks it’s probably the most rocking thing ever recorded in a bedroom. 2012’s eponymous release was full of all-around good time rockers, but on Was Dead Kyle Thomas’ underdog spirit flies. He took his Lo-Fi means and fixed his eyes firmly on the radio, resulting in an absolute classic that’ll always have a place on my shelf.
Best Songs: “Connection”, “Freak When I’m Dead”, “So Desperate”.

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The “pissing in the face of my 15 year old self” album of the year award: Paramore – Paramore
My 15 year old self scoffed at Paramore’s “Misery Business” simply because it wasn’t an Iron Maiden song. But I secretly liked it, (how could you not?) and this year I stood in a crowd of something thousand and sung along to it. Those thousands were largely other 15 year olds who are far less self-serious than I was, and who definitely don’t give a shit about some flat out wrong self-definition of “authenticity”. I don’t know what I was thinking anyway because Paramore are pretty damn authentic, they’ve been writing bona fide hits for years now and just released their best ever album yet in the self-titled Paramore. It made them impossible to ignore, and endlessly enjoyable to my older (wiser?) and more open minded self. Pop shards blend with hair flailing theatrics and then transition into space rock opera outros, creating a sonically huge album that’s perfect for the sold out arenas that they’ve made their home. You might find yourself in one of their crowds one day like I did, so you might as well give it a listen so you can at least sing along.
Best Songs: “Grow Up”, “Ain’t It Fun”, “Part II”.

Muscle Memory

Best Comeback: Jamie Lenman – Muscle Memory
Judging from Reuben’s perfectly titled final mic dropping B-side and rarity release We Should Have Gone to University, the chances of them returning was unlikely. So the news of Jamie Lenman going solo with a lengthy 22 song double album was something I just didn’t expect. Reuben were one of my super favourite bands, but they grew sick of being dirty poor and gave up on their rock and roll dreams to get proper jobs. The hand draw cover of Muscle Memory may be an advert for Lenman’s new illustration job, but the unrelenting harshness of the record’s first disc is definitely something you wouldn’t expect to come from someone who once quit the screaming business to become a for real professional. The albums bold split/double album concept is mind bending, taking you from sweaty bar thrashers to swelling concert hall crooners within the space of 45 minutes.

He takes Reuben’s heaviness up close to Converge levels on the albums Muscle half, screaming himself hoarse over a crushing riff on “The Fuck of It All”. He seems to default to a kind of old man rambling on his hardcore lyrics, repeatedly decrying the banality and cowardice he sees in this young millennium before sounding furious as he demands his 20s back. There’s an argument to be made other whether this makes him out of touch, but this is an album made outside of any scene and free of the pursuit of a popular sound. This gives Lenman the freedom to write a song as sincere as “Pretty Please”, the Memory disc’s big band detour. It’s the sort of record that could only be made by someone who’s beholden to nothing. If you wanted a new “Alpha Signal Three” or another “Song for Saturday” you got it, but probably not to the extreme you would’ve expected. But forget about those songs if you can, they use to be all we had, but now we have the excitement of seeing what he’s going to do next.
Best Songs: “Shower of Scorn”, “The Fuck of It All”, “Pretty Please”.

Top Ten:

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10) Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
Slow Focus is a scuzzy, filthy noise rock album made on hard drive fried in kerosene. Destroying and reassembling themselves with synthetic rapidity; the seven tracks boom with mini explosions that force you to grit your teeth through the gut churning aftershock. It reaches higher and higher apexes, pulling everything into its wake. Lines become blurred when organic drum sounds crumble and merge into the megabyte wash, and guttural sounds emanate from something inhuman. There’s nothing to guide you but an imperceptible cacophony of digital decay.

The Bristol two piece’s third album has all the ingredients of a deliberately difficult and abrasive work — which you might expect from the pair behind one of the most notable acts of band name self-sabotage — but they steer clear of any haughty use of subversion by maintaining a beatific focus on each song’s feel. It’s a purely visceral and immediate form of ‘rock’, and when the oscillating hell synth of “Stalker” reaches its crescendo you can feel the neurons pulsing in your brain.
Best Songs: “The Red Wing”, “Stalker”, “Hidden XS”.

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9) Bill Callahan – Dream River
There isn’t another album opener from this year that’s as memorable as “The Sing”. The image of Bill Callahan enjoying a drink with the silent company of strangers sets Dream River’s tone as perfectly and as vividly as anything ever committed to celluloid. Callahan uses deep guitar strums, and his even deeper voice to capture his version of a door opening onto Monument Valley, picking choice words in both his song writing and his narrative: “Well the only words I said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you’”.

Dream River may fit logically into Callahan’s traditional post-Smog output, but it’s a restful album even by his modern standards. Taking inspiration from his dreams, Callahan becomes each of the figures that he carefully paints with his lyrics. His words can show him overcome with love in his happiest moments, or at his most lost, standing persecuted as an outcast who was just trying to make an honest living on “Summer Painter”. Then he follows an eagle along the river with his eyes before peering out across the land through those of a seagull.

Dream River is the result of a workman’s approach to creativity, with Callahan forcing himself to write and record it in shifts. But it’s rooted in the brains deeply inspirational moments of inactivity, a record made by and for a relaxed state of mind that proves Bill Callahan can still write majesty with his head on a pillow.
Best Songs: “The Sing”, “Spring”, “Summer Painter”.

 Ty Segall Sleeper

8) Ty Segall – Sleeper
Ty Segall has spent at least a song or two of his young, productive career looking inwards, but he’s always expressed his anxieties in the most outward and loud ways possible, condensing them into raucous pop phrases that are a blast to scream along with. But following the difficult loss of his step-father and a move to L.A, Segall had to be honest with himself; he didn’t have another album of his trademark hip shaking fury in him. The idea was almost repulsive to him, so he did what felt natural, he picked up his acoustic guitar and started writing. His work quickly became Sleeper, a comparatively low key and relaxed album that exudes a strong feeling of time, place, and state of mind. Some of its songs were written and recorded right in the moment of inspiration, his hurt is palpable on “Crazy”, a beautifully cryptic account of souring relationships and loss-inspired ugliness.

Segall mixes several of his garage rock hallmarks into Sleeper’s acid-washed version of folk, hissing to build up a grimy electric solo on “The Man Man” and giving “Queen Lullabye” the same retracted mega ton stomp he used on 2012’s “Ghost“. The fierce creativity that flows through Segall’s side projects have always been a perfect measure of his versatility, but his solo records generally provide a fantastic but safe reset. Sleeper marks the first time he has tried to do something radically different within his own solo discography, he pulled the shoot and steered away from stagnation just in the nick of time. That stagnation should’ve been inevitable considering his breakneck creative pace, but Ty Segall remembered that his name sits alone on that record spine, and made album that’s as honest to his fans as it is to himself.
Best Songs: “The Keepers”, “Crazy”, “The Man Man”.

Haim Days Are Gone

7) Haim – Days Are Gone
Este, Danielle and Alana Haim were everywhere this year, giving delightful interview after delightful interview, storming through standout set at every major festival on the planet, and even singing backup vocals with Primal Scream. It seems crazy that most of this was from before their album had even dropped, and it makes their Forever EP songs and its follow up singles at least feel like the giant radio hits that they deserved to be. When Days Are Gone finally arrived in late September they got to debut again as fully formed and furious Rock/Pop professionals.

Their music hooks both definitions of R&B together into an irresistible form of personality driven pop. Danielle Haim’s earns centre stage position with voracious staccato vocals and her measured interpretation of fiery rock star guitar leads, which blaze under the outro of the “The Wire” and moves with a bluesy stomp on “Let Me Go”. Danielle’s off hand vocal ticks on the indelible “Don’t Save Me” are just as enjoyable as the moments where the three sisters’ voices come together on the hook and split off again, and that’s just one song off on an unbelievably stacked side A. There’s also “Honey & I”, which dazzles with summer night atmospherics and sets your heart racing when it finally kicks in, it’s one of my absolute favourite songs of the year.

Days Are Gone producer Ariel Rechtshaid has had an equally eventful year sitting behind the board for excellent records from Vampire Weekend and Sky Ferreira, two artists I’d previously never had much affection for.  When you pair someone with that much talent with the current title holders of “most likeable band in the world” you’ve got yourself a guaranteed hit.
Best Songs: “If I Could Change Your Mind”, “Honey & I”, “Don’t Save Me”.

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6) Deafheaven – Sunbather
I’d bet most people paused for a second when they came to the genre field on their mp3 copies of Sunbather. Black Metal, Post-Metal, or Shoegaze? Do you just stick a bunk of slashes in there? The San Francisco band is a thrilling blend of all three, a vortex of ecstasy that most people probably would have missed out on if only one of those tags were appropriate. The uncompromising nature and humourlessness of Black Metal survives in the anguished screams of vocalist George Clarke, who shouts his incomprehensible poetry into the abyss. His splintering vocal chords are a welcome reprieve from the childlike vocals that some Shoegaze bands chose to contrast their heavy guitar leads. The way Clarke uses his voice to push the band ever higher at Sunbather’s peaks is a revelation.

Deafheaven blow the claustrophobic elements of Black Metal wide open, answering the traditionally tinny and buzz saw-like percussion sound with loud, well recorded drum tracks. The spatial production lets the speed of the bands playing form into a transcendent drone, and awe-inspiring sections of true melody tap into the beautiful expanse that lies behind their steely eyes intensity. There’s real serenity to be found in the soaring outros of “The Pecan Tree” and “Dream House”, the way they naturally segue and evolve from moments of pure aggression to pure bliss is nothing short of outstanding. It lets you stare back at the journey’s footsteps as you’re overcome with the beauty of the imagery that the music is inspiring in you. Genre doesn’t matter in those moments, and whatever Sunbather is, it’s never sounded better.
Best Songs: “Dream House”, “Sunbather”, “The Pecan Tree”.

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5) Fuzz – Fuzz
The mystery of who was behind Trouble in Mind’s “This Time I Got a Reason/Fuzz’s Fourth Dream” 45 lasted all of about two minutes. They tried to bill Fuzz as some unearthed treasure, which might have been believable if you’d never heard Ty Segall sing a syllable. But this longshot attempt at anonymity makes sense, after his trio of releases in 2012 Segall was probably sick of being asked about his prolificacy.

The full self-titled LP didn’t arrive until September, by which time Ty had already recorded and released Sleeper, a solo album that is seen as Segall catching his breath. Well I disagree with that. Even though it’s a hell of a lot louder, faster, and heavier, Fuzz is the true sound of Segall chilling out. Revelling and drawing soothing ragged breaths in the rhythm section as he backs Ty Segall Band cohort Charles Moothart and bassist Roland Casio. In a surprise to no one, he’s a fantastic drummer. He plays fast and loose, putting a powerful emphasis on fills as Moothart is ablaze with mammoth riffs. He seems to be having a blast smashing along on the drums to some crushing guitar leads, only stopping when he’s waiting his turn to dizzily trade solos on “Loose Sutures”.

Fuzz is a just a jam-heavy dusty throwback record, with the kind of cover that you want to spray on the side of a black van. It’s unapologetically old-school, taking its inspiration most clearly from Blue Cheer, Hawkwind, and early Black Sabbath. Casio, Moothart, and Segall just seem like they wanted to put some good grooves on wax. They’re not looking back; they’re living in the moment, just having a blast playing rock and roll at a volume that’s loud enough to blow your windows out.
Best Songs: “What’s In My Head?”, “HazeMaze”, “Preacher”.

Wakin On A Pretty Daze

4) Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Walkin on a Pretty Daze sees Kurt Vile becoming the sort of guitarist people obsess over, the kind that makes gearheads fight over the spot that has the best view of his pedal board. This seems to be the result of a few certain major changes in his life within the last few years. Playing for an hour and half every night during the widespread touring he embarked on after 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo couldn’t have hurt. The stage gave him countless chances to reinterpret each of his notes until he could probably play his songs backwards. But his major source of inspiration seems to have come from being home; Pretty Daze was written and recorded in the lead up to the birth of his second daughter, when he was still adjusting to the arrival of his first. You can imagine him overtired and anxious, wanting to lose himself in his swelling guitar loops whenever he had a spare moment.

He faces the tour guilt of almost being paid to be an absentee father on the beautiful “Too Hard”, it’s a self-portrait of his most conflicted inner thoughts set to gorgeous finger picked acoustic riff that’ll let you escape to wherever it is Vile wants to go. His song’s drift on and become side spanning epics as Vile becomes intoxicated by his own heady interpretation of classic rock. But the refrain of ten minute closer “Goldtone” puts an end to any talk of him being a for real stoner: “Sometimes when I get in my zone, you’d think I was stoned/But I never as they say, touched the stuff. I might be adrift, but I’m still alert/Concentrate my hurt into a gold tone.” That’s pretty much the M.O. of his entire career. Vile’s an escapist who made his own world, and if you listen to it in the right frame of mind, you’ll even forget about the pedals he used to build it.
Best Songs: “Wakin on a Pretty Day”, “Shame Chamber”, “Goldtone”.

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3) Torres – Torres
The reverberant concrete echo on Mackenzie Scott/Torres’ self-titled debut album makes every note and rare snare strike sing along with her like a choir. The giant room comes alive and begins to glow as her warm voice draws you closer and closer, transforming her intimate ballads into something truly grandiose with nothing but the quake in her vocal chords. It’s honed and mastered, sounding just as full even when it’s forced to stand naked with a hissing tape, or when it comes out as an unpolished and desperate cry when Scott stabs at your soul with lyrics of tragic beauty.

“Moon & Back” directly addresses an anonymous adopted child, the year mentioned seems to rule out the chance of it being her child, but the deep connection conveyed with her words and expressions make it hard to believe that the song is a complete work of fiction. You feel her pain in an immediate and real way. Scott perfectly vocalizes her narrator’s desperate plea on closer “Waterfall”, choosing a numb tone of worn out acceptance as the figure stands on the edge of a final terrifying form of freedom. It leaves you in need of the albums final silent seconds of contemplation. Torres is a sincere collection of aching ballads sung by one of the year’s best new voices, a slow motion blaze lit from the smouldering, sparking embers of a young and fiery heart.
Best Songs: “Honey”, “When Winter’s Over”, “Moon & Back”.

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2) Mikal Cronin – MCII
From co-penning riptide thrashers on Reverse Shark Attack, to providing ripping bass and cooing harmonies on the oppressive Slaughterhouse, Mikal Cronin has been a long-time friend and ally of garage rock savant Ty Segall. They’re huge celebrators of each another’s work —and Cronin released a pretty excellent debut album somewhere within their collaborative history—but this was the year he finally seemed to step out of his friend’s long shadow for good. Into what happened to be a very sunny spotlight.

His lyrics aim for your heart even when his guitar moves your body. He deals with his insecurities in the light and anthemic “Shout It Out”, which rings with sugary ooos and sharp handclaps, and delves deeper on the profound “Weight”; exploring the easily relatable lost and directionless feelings of young adulthood. Cronin’s clear musical talent and multi-instrumentalist prowess makes MCII an endlessly rich album. Gnarly guitar ragers sit right next to sweet acoustic ballads, and he even lets his string section get in on a rock out during “Change”.  The heart stopping and hopeful ballad “Piano Mantra” closes it out, but not before an earthy guitar crash parts the clouds for a final ray of glory. Cronin has a tinnitus ridden ear for pop; a seemingly intuitive sense of the perfect tune and the skill to wrap it in the right amount of fuzz and volume to make it shine ever brighter.
Best Songs: “Weight”, “Shout It Out”, “Piano Mantra”.

Personal Record

1) Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
There’s a distinct matter-of-factness about Eleanor Friedberger’s lyrics. She doesn’t seem to feel the need to disguise her feelings inside of vague poetics or allegory, and is happy to just come out and say: “I don’t want to bother you, but there’s something to say that I want you to know”. Personal Record is a pretty straight forward songwriter-orientated kind of album; it makes wonderful use of traditional song structure, with verses, choruses and bridges all where they’re meant to be. Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone but Friedberger singing these beautifully constructed songs. Her wordy vocal style is almost like narration, it’s deeply evocative of specific times and places. Even when there’s not much to her lyrics you get a real insight into her frame of mind.

On “My Own World” she sings: “I was living and breathing and sitting quite quietly / Watching the TV and minding my diet / While I moved from my desk on to my treadmill / And I tried to move mountains or nothing but molehills”. It’s mundane. Yet when it’s combined with a light country guitar lead you get everything from it.  You can see what her apartment looks like and you can feel her conflicted feelings of boredom and relief as she tries to enjoy a quiet moment alone. There’s no way you could strip those songs down, or give them to The Byrds.

This—and the fact that the album is called Personal Record—is probably why I was so surprised to learn that the whole album was co-written by John Wesley Harding. Harding helped Friedberger move further in the direction outlined by her solo debut Last Summer; which condensed the fussier and intricate parts of her band The Fiery Furnaces into something much more immediate. If they can keep producing moments as sublime as the soaring horn-lead bridge of “She’s a Mirror”, and pop songs as good as “Stare at the Sun”, I hope their collaboration is long-lived. Their partnership doesn’t do anything to make the title any less perfect. The songs are irrefutably hers; you’re in the back of that taxi with her, and you’re there to desperately help her search for Soft Machine in that Oxford street basement.
Best Songs: “My Own World”, “I Am the Past”, “She’s a Mirror”.

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Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile has always seemed like the sort of guy that would get a kick out of having an album that he could call his own Blonde on Blonde or Exile on Main St., and luckily for him he’s at the perfect time in his career to go big. Wakin On a Pretty Daze is his first release that a significant amount of people are waiting for, after 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo acted as his sort-of-breakout. That album felt like the culmination of all of his earlier Lo-Fi Folk/Rock/Pop recordings, and he could’ve bowed out right then having made his ultimate album. But Vile grew up on records from Rock’s lifers, your Neil Youngs and your Bruce Springsteens, so that just wasn’t an option, and he instead chose to follow it up with his biggest and boldest statement yet.

While considerably longer than his other records, it’s a pretty lean take on a double album. Vile has eliminated any expected filler by picking his eleven best songs and letting them sit for a while. He unhurriedly lets them unfurl as he restructures and resets their chord progressions for as long as ten minutes. It avoids double album gimmicks, the two discs aren’t distinct from each other and the flow is almost too good, which makes the idea of getting up and changing sides seem more like an annoyance than an essential part of the experience. It’s best enjoyed as an uninterrupted singular album, that just happens to have the very welcome bonus of being pretty long.

Partial-title track “Wakin On a Pretty Day” is a gorgeous, perfect opener, deep acoustic strings are layered over rich electric tones during the song’s breezy chorus, all building to an outro solo that practically glistens. Along with the upbeat, ragged lead of “KV Crimes” it’s the first sign that Vile has grown as a guitarist. Every song has an instantly identifiable and excellent guitar opening, from the swampy distortion of “Girl Called Alex” to the Nick-Drake-finger picked chords of “Too Hard”. He makes amazing use of these stringed motifs, and you never notice the songs lengths. In one of his first interviews about the album he called it his Tusk, and while that’s not really a spot on comparison his outro solos are definitely on par with Lindsey Buckingham’s.

“Shame Chamber” features some of Vile’s most self-loathing and self-exploratory lyrics, even if the fun and sharp “WOOOO”’s present him as a limosine ridin’, jet flyin, kiss-stealin, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun! He’s made a big double album, one the Rock artist’s biggest indulgences, but he has somehow kept his tone personal and humble, even as he adds another flavour with “Never Run Away” the album’s clear pop single. Its killer chorus is almost as cute as the song’s video.

Vile’s Americana influences are still at the forefront of his sound, Wakin On a Pretty Daze was recorded on both coasts, but it’s full of sounds and influences from all over the giant country. “Air Bud” mixes heartland guitar licks with sunny synths; its outro could’ve been a whole other song. “Goldtone” could be the track that this album is remembered for, Vile sings some of his most evocative lines over its floating melodies, and maybe even clears up some misconceptions about himself: “Sometimes when I get in my zone, you’d think I was stoned, but I never as they say touch the stuff / I might be adrift but I’m still alert, concentrate my hurt into a gold tone”. He reveals to us what’s behind his seemingly laid back front, and tells us how he comes up with so many great guitar sounds. It’s an odyssey of a closer, with organ keys, and soft female vocals moving freely within it, creating a beautiful sonic radiance that shimmers along with Vile’s guitar strings.

It really begins to reveal itself after a few listens and the length begins to feel vital. Wakin On a Pretty Daze may wear the clothes of a classic rock double LP, but it stays true to Kurt Vile’s style, and it’s a joy to bask in his songs’ bright and pale sunshine for just that little while longer.

5/5

Kurt Vile

The run up to The National’s ATP festival has caused a mass influx of American Indie Rock bands with Folk leanings to the UK this week, and this ATP promoted Kurt Vile show seemed designed to give three of those bands something to do before they make the drive to Camber Sands. It also gave the non-attendees a chance to see three of the festivals best.

First opening act Dark Dark Dark play a set of material from their great new album Who Needs Who. Like the album, their live sound is a jazzy-piano heavy breed of Folk Rock. Which features an accordion, some brass, and a atypical bass-drumless drum setup. Vocalist Nona Marie Invie’s performed all but one song seated behind the keyboard, and her rich affective voice blossomed during “It’s a Secret” and “Meet in the Dark”. It’s great and mellow enough that even the light mumble of audience conversation doesn’t detract from their great set.

Baltimore’s Lower Dens politely announce that they’re ready as they begin a slow and gorgeous set of their ‘Alternative’ music, in the hard to properly define sense of the world. They’ve been labelled with genres as varied as Dream Pop and Post Punk, but their sound is both too dark and too majestic to fit comfortably within either. Their excellent 2012 release Nootropics is proof that it’s music that requires patience. They use stiff drum beats and synth to play their wistful and illusory music within a traditional band structure. Serene opener “I Get Nervous”, from their debut album Twin-Hand Movement, shows off Jana Hunter’s and Geoff Graham’s off kilter harmonies, and the unnerving and nebulous beauty in Hunter’s voice emerges during “Propagation”. The more bass heavy “Brains” and “Stem” are almost proggy as the band descends from the soundscape for something more straightforward. Their fantastic set trails of more than it concludes, but even those who weren’t won over could feel their dark music lingering in the air as they left the stage.

It’s been almost 2 years since the release of Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt Vile’s breakout album from early 2011. Outside of a few live shows, it’s been a low key year for Vile. This is perfectly inline with his apathetic lyrics (“Think I’ll never leave my couch again”), but in reality it’s probably because he just has a second child with his wife, and is recording a new album. Somewhere during his time off Vile became an incredible guitar player, he was always good but at this gig his playing is pretty much the whole show. His guitar was deafening in his central monitors during opener “Hunchback”, and the tone sounded incredible all night. Ranging from his chunky, purring, folk guitar drawl to his excellent acoustic fingerpicking. He spent the majority of the set bent forward, his long hair draped only inches from the necks of his multiple Fender Jaguars, as he unleashed and lost himself in long guitar jams.

“Got no room for those two minute pop songs anymore”, he says after the light and poppy “Freeway”. A statement he proves with mammoth and grungey version of “Society Is My Friend”. The lengthy laid back guitar jams are far more to Vile’s speed now than the playful “Freeway”, the song’s yippy vocals sounded great, but out of place even on Constant Hitmaker. His Crazy Horse equivalent, The Violators, leave him alone with his acoustic guitar for several songs, allowing him to temporarily embody a solo Americana folk figure. He knows to pull back the volume for the magical fingerpicking of “Peeping Tomboy”, making it a stunning highlight.

Vile can be casual and laid back with his singing style to a fault, he sometimes sings his lyrics out of time. Some members of the crowd hushly mumbled along with him during “Baby’s Arms” and “Peeping Tomboy”, and his messy vocal style may have held them back from being great sing alongs. It’s customary to his lovably lazy stoner rock persona, as he is singing with as much energy as his lyrics are conveying, but it’s also an obvious weak point that he lets his masterful guitar work make up for. His stage banter is just as incoherent, but it’s sparse and saved mainly for one word thank you’s and song dedications to unknown people like “Stephanie”, who probably struggled to comprehend that the dedication was intended for them. “We’ve got to catch a plane to ATP” he said before a pre-encore version of title track “Smoke Ring for My Halo”. Spoken in a way that left no one quite sure whether he was joking or not, as they tried to remember if Camber Sands is actually far enough away from London for that to really be his method of travel.

His guitar sound continued to be the best thing about the show, as well as being its biggest problem. Its force was awe inspiring, but became a problem for the non-drummer Violators. Their rhythmic licks and other contributions to the folk guitar wall were near impossible to pick out as Vile dominated within it. It made his fantastically name backing band seem almost pointless. It was hard to tell if he played any new songs or not (he didn’t(?)). But it almost doesn’t matter what songs he played, it was a thrill just to watch his guitar playing weave through multiple styles and tempos. His songs have always been more about mood and tone than they are about hooks.

An encore of “Freak Train” appropriately featured a spaced out pedal mashing distortion freak out that destroyed its sampled beats with otherworldly guitar shrieks. Vile closed with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. With an arrangement indebted to the Gun N’ Roses version, but Vile’s voice returned it to its mumbling Bob Dylan origins. He isn’t the most adept frontman, and he is clearly more Dylan than he is Axl. But he seems to have no patience for that sort of thing, and is at his most comfortable when shrouded in his exhilarating guitar tone.

4/5