This Stupidly Simple Life: Kurt Vile’s ‘b’lieve i’m goin down…’

Listen to more Kurt Vile.
By    October 8, 2015


Will Schube is an honorary Violator

Kurt Vile has been making solo music since 2008 but I’ve had no idea what kind of dude he is until now. b’lieve i’m going down… is his latest album and a work of sincerity. In our Age of Irony, few things feels better than someone genuinely trying to evoke. Vile’s sometimes embarrassingly unsubtle in his delivery, but the thoughts carry enough weight to drown out the sheepish critical ear. Everything he expresses, through humor, pathos, or fear, is done so in a search of self—of us. His lyrics, delivered in unchanging, yet soothing phrasings, are streamlined in a way he never accomplished before b’lieve.

“That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)” is six and a half minutes of variations on that title—expressed in laughs and cries, musings and laments. But this straightforwardness charms and seeps its way into the album’s life affirming core. b’lieve i’m going down… isn’t in on the joke. This record is real and unabashed. It’s his most philosophically bold album, and his best. Big ideas and big songs packed into neurotic fits of triumph and shame.

b’lieve is some strange combination of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight and Neil Young’s On The Beach. Nervous energy and broken dreams. Just laugh through the tears. Maybe you’ll find your Terry Ambrose too.

Vile’s prior music has varied between loose, finger-picked wanderings and a hazy rawk that too often loses itself amidst the fog (his last album, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, is often very good, but not consistent like b’lieve is). b’lieve is a culmination, a patchwork opus. A lot of the album is about music, the cracks and crevices of our days filled with songs and melodies. Vile can’t escape it, this is his world. We’re lucky for it. On “Wheelhouse,” over Grizzly Bear-esque clicks and clacks, he sings,

“But I don’t wanna talk, I only wanna listen / But baby talk soft, my ears are always ringing now / Humming a sad song, when I’m alone / But you gotta be alone, to figure things out sometimes.”

There’s nothing complex about this. He’s taking you through the minutia of his world—the leftover tinnitus from a previous tour, the overwhelming anxiety of stopping when you have to.

Rainer Fassbinder once said that the reason for his prolific output (40 films—many of which are fantastic—in under 15 years) is because he feared death too much to stop. He found the absurd end so crippling that all he could do was surround himself with people and work. Work and people. Vile doesn’t seem quite so haunted, but he tries to find truth in a great paradox: We’re lonely when alone, but everyone needs to be alone. There’s nothing easy about it, and Vile laughs with the struggle. It feels good.

b’lieve’s silliest sounding song is also the least like Vile, the furthest from his comfort zone—that warm, hollow picking of his acoustic guitar. “Lost my Head there” is a day in the life of Vile’s songwriting process. We get Elton John keys, white-boy funk drums, and cracked falsetto harmonies. He sings,

“I was bugging out, about a couple, two three things / Picked up my microphone and started to sing / I was feeling worse, than the words came out / Fell on some keys, then this song walked out of me.”

Vile’s delivery is unwavering, which makes the track sound all the odder. But amidst the change-up he’s still searching for the humor and the struggle in all this nonsense. The music is curing, but it only helps the illness it produced to begin with. We all feel a little goofy and trapped, ready to bust out. That’s what makes b’lieve so human and so easy to love. Kurt Vile’s unafraid to admit how stupidly simple it can all be. And how good that can feel to admit.

You can purchase b’lieve i’m goin down… through
Matador Records
website, here.



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