The intensely mellow yet rather obsessive compulsive character of Kurt Vile’s songs is summed up well in the first track from Bottle It In. Loading Zones describes the habit of driving round town and parking in the titular short stay bays so as to avoid ever having to pay for parking. “I park for free!” he shouts, and the line’s ardent delivery belies its banality.
The song can be seen as being about freedom and beating the system, but at the same time it’s very much about dodging traffic wardens – you can imagine Vile cruising round his hometown of Philadelphia in an old Chevy similar to the one that appeared in the video for Pretty Pimpin’ – and it’s all the more charming for that.
If Loading Zones reflects Vile’s life at all then one wonders how he was able to stop in one place long enough to record his seventh solo album. It all starts to make a bit more sense when you learn that Bottle It In was recorded in multiple locations around the US. It’s a nomadic record then, and it certainly rarely stands still – if a guitar can play a few more notes rather than lingering on a strummed chord then it almost always will. Describing elements of the music as hooks has never felt more appropriate: Vile’s guitar parts sound as though they are coiling themselves around the songs, ribboning around them until they are perfectly gift-wrapped.
Contributions from the likes of Cass McCombs, Stella Mozgawa and Kim Gordon suggest that this is music with the strong endorsement of strong musicians, but it’s not completely free of missteps. The muted hoedown stomp of Come Again just about permits its banjo part to succeed, but the rhinestone invoking Rollin’ With The Flow is overly schmaltzy, and isn’t helped by lyrics like “Some might be calling me a bum, but I’m still out there having fun”.
But elsewhere both the songs are much more up to scratch, even at slightly more experimental moments, such as the scratching sounds buried in Cold Was The Wind, and the squelchy bass synth in the excellent Check Baby. One Trick Ponies is another highpoint; “I’ve always had a soft spot for repetition,” Vile sings at one point, and fittingly the same guitar riff is repeated throughout. It’s such a good riff it’s a pleasure to hear it over and over.
Vile’s lyrical observations are on-point much more often than not too. In Mutinies, the line “Small computer in my hand exploding; I think things were way easier with a regular telephone” sounds as though it could have been borrowed from Courtney Barnett, with whom he collaborated on the album Lotta Sea Lice. Mutinies is a fragile song that addresses mental health issues, but there are also moments of great confidence, as in Loading Zones: “Sure, they knighted me yesterday but who needs armour when I’ve an exoskeleton.”
There’s a serious attention to detail here, and that’s kept up for the considerable length of the album. A significant proportion of its long running time is made up of just three songs that stretch out to around ten minutes each. The downbeat Bassackwards was bravely chosen as lead single; the title track comes close to drone territory at times, its rumbling bass abutting a super-delicate guitar part; and Skinny Mini is hazy and heady. Without these three tracks the album would still run for 50 minutes or so, but it would be a very different record. As it stands it’s not Vile’s most accessible album, but it rewards patience.