Albums of 2015 (#9): Kurt Vile – b’lieve I’m goin down

Vile’s self-described ‘night-time record’ finds the young Philadelphian at ease

Feature by Claire Francis | 01 Dec 2015

“Things just aren’t as exciting as the 70s,” quipped the languid, long-haired Kurt Vile when chatting with The Skinny back in 2013. Jokes aside, this sentiment appears to have held fast for the Philadelphia native. Two years on, the singer/songwriter’s sixth and most recent studio album, b’lieve I’m goin down (recorded with his band of Violators at the revered Rancho de la Luna studios in Joshua Tree, California) still trades in the previous pedal-tinted grunge of his previous releases, but emotes a distinct Americana folk-rock tone that barely sequesters its Neil Young influences.

"In all of the wry navel-gazing that preoccupies Vile’s lyrics, it’s easy to miss the fact that he's one rather funny guy"

It’s not all Young-esque finger-picked folkery though; on b’lieve, Vile’s self-described ‘night-time record’, country blues riffs sit comfortably alongside jazzy piano and moody Wurlitzer organ. The droll Life Like This or saloon melody of Lost My Head There mimic Randy Newman in a particularly Gen Y moment of self-reflection, while the wobbling chords of Dust Bunnies form a tongue-in-cheek love song that evokes Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers at their most acerbic.

 Along with keys, there's finger-picked banjo, which weaves an Appalachian warmth throughout I’m An Outlaw, while the bended-note riff of Wheelhouse, a track Vile has claimed may be the best song he has ever recorded, creates a meandering, meditative epic under a desert sky. Despite the pervading Americana reverie, though, b’lieve is the first of Vile’s albums to crack the UK top 40 chart – so beyond the man’s adept guitar work and harmonic hooks, what is it about this album that resonates with a nation acclimatised more to persistent rain than California skies? 

In all of the wry navel-gazing that preoccupies Vile’s lyrics, it’s easy to miss the fact that he's one rather funny guy. 'There ain’t no manual to our minds,' he sings, and b’lieve i’m goin’ down indeed reads as a demotic, discursive and unapologetic journal of self-exploration. That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say) is a sparse spoken word ballad that melds soul-searching with self-mockery ('When I go out, I take pills to take the edge off / Just a certified badass out for a night on the town') but it’s Pretty Pimpin that has Vile at his shoulder-shrugging, whimsical best.

Atop a pedal-heavy guitar riff, he laments: 'I woke up this morning / Didn’t recognise the man in the mirror,' while at the same time noting that he 'was sporting all my clothes / I gotta say pretty pimpin.' He's the loveable king of lackadaisical ruminations, and with b’lieve I’m goin down, KV proves that existentialism can sometimes be quite a laugh.