Halfway through Bottle It In, Kurt Vile’s newest album, he covers country veteran Charlie Rich’s “Rollin With The Flow.”
“Guys my age are raising kids,” Vile sings.
Vile is raising kids too. Not only that but, at 38, he’s on his eighth album: By that age, many of Vile’s well-documented influences—Neil Young and Stephen Malkmus among them— were already several years past their prime. Yet, Bottle It In is Vile’s best work to date by a significant margin.
Vile’s songs rely on repetitive, acoustic-picking grooves laid under dense instrumentals. It’s the same formula that produced his biggest hit, 2015’s “Pretty Pimpin’,” but, on Bottle It In, the arrangements are more diverse and sophisticated.
The album’s title track features the harp, played by classically trained musician Mary Lattimore, contrasting with Vile’s curious and wandering country drawl. Although the album spotlights Vile’s best lead guitar to date (“Check Baby,” for one), the strongest instrumentals occur when Vile’s backing band, the Violators, relax into a groove for a while. On “Bassackwards,” backward guitars guide strains of organs through ten minutes of what feels like staring out a car window on a gorgeous country drive. It also features some of the album’s most incisive writing: Vile loops through surreal rhymes, repeats them, forgets some, sets up expectations, defies them, and then follows them again.
The album’s opener, “Loading Zones,” showcases Vile’s wit: It is a song about parking a car, but it is also about loving a city and elusive moments of freedom. Throughout the album, Vile juggles cerebral instrumentals, guitar heroics, and sing-along hooks.“One Trick Ponies,” likely the album’s best song, manages all three at once with ease.
Vile has a strong sense for musical history; he has used his expertise to inform an album that is both inventive and engrossing. Bottle It In is an accomplishment not just in its own right, but also as the extension of a larger body of work: As the patient listener will find, Vile’s effortless growth as a writer and guitarist are just as magnificent.