Kurt Vile’s latest release, Bottle It In, can be summarized in two words: it’s fine. It’s all fine, and definitely serviceable but it feels a bit like a placeholder. You want a Kurt Vile album? Here’s a Kurt Vile album. More of what you like, more of what I like, and we can all keep humming along. This is not to say that the album is bad—because it isn’t, because a seasoned musician like Vile is probably not capable of making disposable, unlistenable music—but rather that the album succeeds with maybe half of its songs, and those “successes” are primarily just fine, but are not anything that makes quite as much of an impression as singles from his previous albums.
The first third of the album is the strongest section, starting simply with the groovy, ambling “Loading Zones” and the drowsy punch-drunk rhythm of “Hysteria.” “Yeah Bones” follows, but it’s a little gratingly jaunty. Vile is definitely a fan of musical repetition, and when it works you can be lulled into a sort of waking dream, but when it doesn’t it can be just slightly maddening. The jaunty, ditty-doo notes of “Yeah Bones” wear themselves out fast. Luckily, that is one of the shorter songs on the album at almost five minutes. It’s followed by one of the lead singles, “Bassackwards,” which is also the first of three nearly 10-minute songs of the album. These lengthy pieces offer diminishing returns as we progress through the album. “Bassackwards” employs repetition and loopy, rambling lyrics that successfully envelop you and slink around you. Here the repetition does not annoy, but effectively conveys the psychedelic experience Vile sings of, where words come out of you “bassackwards.”
Unfortunately, right after “Bassackwards” is “One Trick Ponies,” which immediately feels stale next to “Bassackwards” and makes you feel as though you’ve just gone in a loop on the album and that it is all literally repeating itself. “Ponies” echoes the jaunty feel-good sound of “Yeah Bones,” but is slightly less interesting. But, the album picks itself up again with “Rollin with the Flow” and “Check Baby.” “Flow” immediately sounds different than the previous songs, tinged with a bittersweet, wistful tone which suits the lyrics which essentially say “just keep livin’.” “Check Baby” is spunky, with a kicky rhythm that gets you moving in your seat or feet, wherever you are. This track is nearly eight minutes, and it feels as if it should end once you reach the halfway point. However, it keeps going and that extension feels enjoyably surreal. The song eventually just fades out, and you feel as if it could have (and somewhere, still is) continued forever.
There are several tracks after “Check Baby,” but none which mark themselves as especially essential. “Bottle It In” is the second 10-minute saga, and it feels as if it lasts a year. The song is so relatively gentle—the primary rhythm coming from simple drums and piano plinks that evoke the messing around of a child—and that calm ultimately lulls you too much, so that the song evaporates upon contact. “Mutinies” employs some interesting atmospheric effects that help it stand out, but the general sleepiness of the final tracks also helps “Mutinies” in that regard. “Come Again” and “Cold Was the Wind” slouch towards “Skinny Mini,” the last 10-minute track and the most unnecessary. The verbal gymnastics of the lyrics are kind of fun (“she’s a free-wheeling lady baby high-strung well-off…she’s a little bit skinny mini girl child old soul.”) but the performance is so subdued that it hardly makes an impression at all, despite its length. And then the album goes out on some artful feedback, squeals and squelches in “(Bottle Back)”.
Bottle It In, like most Kurt Vile projects, is over an hour in length and could probably benefit from some tighter editing. However, what it lacks in succinctness it makes up for in its mood that it creates as you let the album sink in around you. The main disappointments of Bottle It In are the moments in which you wish you could enjoy the escape into the music but the music just isn’t giving you much to escape to. The music is still serviceable for a soundtrack to a chill hang, but if you want something a little more lasting, a little more substantial you may be disappointed; or, perhaps you can just excise the five or so tracks here that manage to make an impression and create your own, truncated album to bask in.