Last week I got an unexpected night off of work. I ended up getting a haircut and just sort of wandering the neighborhood for a bit afterward and quite literally stumbled upon a leg of Kurt Vile’s marathon in-store solo acoustic record shop series. I’d remembered reading the shows were happening, but once I knew I wasn’t going to be around that night, they basically left my mind.
Falling into it like this ending up bringing an almost voyeuristic element into the equation. I suppose it made it feel a bit like I’d just sort of happened upon Vile playing these songs in his own living room or basement. Thought it would seem that feeling stems just as much from the songs and the man himself than form the context in which I arrived.
Make no mistake, Vile puts on a great live show. If the room is quiet, stripped down and right, it feels like it’s just him and a guitar whether he’s headlining Mercury Lounge or playing next to the rock A-K bin. When David Bevan reviewed Smoke Ring For My Halo, which garnered a much-deserved Best New Music tag, he said it felt like Vile is in constant conversation with himself. That seems particularly apt when Vile plays a song like “Baby’s Arms.” The album opener feels incredibly lyrically vulnerable. Without Vile’s trademark double-guitar haze and layering around to clutter it up, the track is all the more eerie. It seems like it would be scary to put yourself out there so openly, but if it just feels like talking to yourself and your guitar, maybe it’s not so bad.
It seems no coincidence at all his newest album lacks the haze that surrounded his earlier efforts. Before the guitars were a lot of the hook Vile had. But it seems over time all these conversations with himself made him one hell of a storyteller. Now the story takes center stage. The result is a collection of timeless songs that compliment each other effectively and create an intimacy that forces you inside Vile’s world. If he’s not aware you’re there in the living room with him, you’re surely glad to be.