By Danger Paul Balazs
For those of you that do not know Kurt Vile, he is a singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania. He is best known for his work with the band The War on Drugs, since co-founding it in 2005. While The War on Drugs are utilizing synth melodies and dreamy soundscapes, his solo efforts have a simpler approach. There’s a good base, laid down with guitar or piano and a narration style of vocals that make for a well told story you can’t get out of your head. B’lieve I’m Goin Down is his sixth LP since 2008 recorded with The Violators. Vile’s vocals will remind you of a mix between Bob Dylan and a nasally Lou Reed. Together, they combine and blend to portray a certain consistency and attentiveness that can open your mind to the thoughtfulness of his lyrics. He doesn’t stop short of the singer-songwriter delivery though. There are plenty of moments where you can catch eerie noises, ominous swells, melodic twang, or a bouncy piano. All of this keeps the albums flow fresh and exciting all the way through.
“Pretty Pimpin” is the first single off of B’lieve I’m Goin Down. It starts with a hypnotic riff and doesn’t hesitate to get to the point. The song is clearly about the similarities between dreams and reality. Both can be pointless, both can cause endless emotional responses at any given moment, but that is okay and such is life. This idea really hits home and can help you realize acceptance of who you are and put your purpose on earth into perspective. The lyrical significance of “Pretty Pimpin” isn’t the only thing that makes this a great first single. I like to think of it as a s’more: a lyrical message that is sandwiched between a droning beat and the repetitive arrangement that keeps your head bobbing and your toes tapping. I personally can’t get this song out of my head and I can’t help but smile at some of his clever, goofy word choices.
The album flows so smoothly, it would make Santana and Rob Thomas jealous. Not every track requires the same instrumentation to exhibit the coherent feels of B’lieve I’m Goin Down. The second track, “I’m an Outlaw” features a lead banjo that is used widely outside of its bluegrass roots. The twang that is spread over the top of provides that same movement you got from “Pretty Pimpin” that keeps things moving right along. From there, an organ is introduced on “Dust Bunnies,” but only in the lower register. It recalls sounds from bands of the indie electro genre, but stays very modest and allows just enough melody to segue from his vocals. Again, his lyrics start to take over and you can’t seem to shy away from trying to learn the words.
“That’s Life Tho (Almost Hate to Say)” really pulls back in a folky way. Where simple vocals would be, Vile nearly just speaks his mind until he reprises his thoughts with the chorus that resembles the title of the song. The use of the egg shaker is paramount halfway through, backed by synthy undertones. “Wheelhouse” is a soft piece that isn’t going for a pop mentality rather a vessel for a metaphorical message of seeking a better opportunity. It then gets spacey and lost which seems just so fitting. The piano will enter the scene now with “Life Like This,” which is a peppy number and the second single released this summer. It has you taking your thoughts of possible outcomes and turns it inside out; having you feeling grateful for everything you have been dealt. The chorus teases by saying “Wanna live a life like this? Yeah, you wish.” I love the synthy solo section too. It reminds me of Jason Lytle’s (Grandaddy) production style in a way.
He then falls back on his ass to chill in proverbial bean bag and presents “All in a Daze Work.” It has some really beautiful guitar work and a story about his passion became his routine and his occupation. The second half of the song is just instrumental and just as routine as his lyrical content suggested. We have all had the moment where you go full “space cadet”. “Lost My Head There” is just that, and enters with a groovy Motown beat and a catchy piano progression, which definitely seems to be the theme of this song. More swelling synths fill in the holes for the rest of the song. It seems to be a songwriting trend Vile has on B’lieve I’m Goin Down, where the verses and choruses will make up the first half of the song and the music will fall down into Wonderland to give you and the white rabbit a chance to reflect on the thoughts and ideas presented minutes prior.
“Stand Inside” really marks the beginning of the end of the album. It starts to get a little monotonous with the same aesthetic knocking on your door for the most part. It seems to be a weaker link in the album as I did not find it as catchy or interesting throughout. “Bad Omens” is a short 6/8 piece that remains instrumental. The guitars are weaving in and out with a lot of sustain, which gives it a shoegazy vibe. It sort of makes me think back to the song “Lost My Head There” if it were to have words involved. “Kidding Around” is everything you would expect. It is talking about how there isn’t really a meaning behind things a lot of the time. We just create a meaning to manifest a sense of connection or false tangibility. It seems to be a callback to “Pretty Pimpin” in a way. The percussion is very subtle, yet the delivery is flawless. Floor tom thumps and random snare smacks that fill in the spaces between the jangly guitars.
If there is a theme to this album I think “Wild Imagination” sums it up, making it a perfect closer. You can put your mind to anything, you can think about anything you want, you can aspire to be who you want to be, and you are bound to get a little lost and confused along the way which is practically the best part. Like Vile says, “There’s believers and lovers // and druggers and dreamers // and drunkards and schemers // I am afraid that I am feeling much too many feelings simultaneously at such a rapid clip,” followed by “Give me some time.” How can you not agree with that? We all want more time right?