You hear certain names on relevant people’s lips long enough and, despite the urge to appear contrary, at some point your interest is piqued so tremendously that you find yourself seeking out something that really isn’t in line with your usual playlist. Kurt Vile is one of those names. Also, in fitting form, he’s someone I managed to get into right at the point that he boarded a plane and left this country in December. This is something that happens to me quite frequently – perhaps because of my lengthy involvement in street press – of knowing of something without knowing what it is, a sort of peripheral awareness that only becomes crystallised way past the point of usefulness. Well, not entirely true, because recorded music does a pretty good job of filling in the holes for the live show, but listening to Vile’s latest companion EP, So Outta Reach, I did get the peculiar sensation that I was kicking myself. Unlike various other lo-fi, backyard recordings that seem to have reached critical acclaim in the previous year, I was hooked without being told I had to be. Really, I don’t think a dude with a guitar has been so appealing to me since I first heard Ryan Adams or Justin Vernon bust one out. Interestingly, while he shares certain genre aspects with both those men, Vile is something different completely. I can completely see why people are getting into tizz over him.
The thing with Vile is that he marries two very popular movements that are happening now in indie-rock music somewhat tangentially, which is the folk renaissance with the primary concern being the voice and its relationship to the guitar and the grunge reheat with the primary concern being the guitar and the way it can obscure the voice. For a great example of the latter, see Yuck. Playing with a band of old session musos called The Violators yet sounding distinctly new, Kurt manages to be both of these things at once. His penchant for classic rock writing means that what grabs you first is the tremendous tone and sophisticated chords of his six-string. And straight after that you’re struck by a voice which is far from perfect and yet completely perfect in a ’90s, shoegaze slacker sense, complimented by a recording style which doesn’t polish the hood and buff the wheels but still drives great. All the combines to make something that is disarming and something that you really want to experience in one of two places; in private, with headphones on, when there’s nobody else around or in a park, in the afternoon, with friends, when you’re completely and utterly stoned. He’s pretty much a one-man Real Estate.
The novel concept of musicians actually being really good at their instruments never really went away, but it did take a back seat for a while there as the world lost their bananas over big sounding synths that did a good job of masking the fact that they were repeating the same notes. But in every field there’s always that real appreciator (like Yuksek for French house or Pharoahe Monch for hip-hop) who sits at home figuring out how to play entire Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen back catalogue and grows his hair so he looks a bit like a cross between Robert Plant, Weird Al Yankovic and Alanis Morisette, even though there is absolutely nothing cool about it. I have maximum respect for dudes like that, because rather than appearing contrary without being able to actually write solid tunes (see: the DIY punk revolution where guys who can’t play three chords are somehow tipped as the second coming of Jesus), they just plug along doing what they do until self-effacing faux-hipsters like yours truly stumble onto it by chance and spread the word. ‘Life’s A Beach’ is my pick of this EP because it exemplifies this spirited embracing of elements long considered fey, like beautiful lead guitar lines, chugging drums and sudden changes which bring on a new kind of beauty, all before the vocals even start. This is pristine Americana. And it sure is great.
Kurt Vile – ‘Life’s A Beach’