Just like certain actors being cast in a film almost guarantees it’ll a good one, there are a small number of musicians whose albums you won’t ever have to worry about being sub-par. Kurt Vile is one: he has released five solo albums of the most tip-top indie-rock and folk since co-founding, and subsequently leaving, the War on Drugs in 2008. The 35 year-old Philadelphian’s problem, then, is maintaining the almost impossibly high standards he has set for himself, but it’s a task he sets about with typically laidback ease on this solid 12-track effort. While no wheels are reinvented or new ground broken, the warm and hazy embrace of Vile’s gently-rolling indie-Americana is as welcoming as ever, and it’s a very good thing that he hasn’t done a Kevin Parker and gone electro-pop. First single ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is just that, while ‘I’m an Outlaw’ is banjo-pickin’ good. Vile’s melancholia is never far off, and it raises its heavy eyelids first in ‘That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say)’; in which he sings of “taking pills to take the edge off”, while the equally downbeat ‘All in a Daze Work’ features the obligatory day/daze pun long-time fans will recognise. A perennially underrated guitar player, Vile is more often praised for the high standard of craftsmanship of his songs and indie-stoner vibe, but there’s magic in these licks that demands respect. Six albums in and Kurt Vile is still somewhat of a cult figure; can we keep him that way, please?
The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of recognition he deserves. The Philadelphia native’s visionary songwriting over the course of his band’s three albums is the perfect example of a musician single-mindedly ploughing his own furrow, with the finished product benefiting as a consequence.
2011’s Slave Ambient was a momentous and enthralling release which spawned over two years of touring for Granduciel and his three bandmates; out of which sprung this follow-up. Like Slave Ambient, the indie-rockers’ third album repeatedly slip in and out of focus, while maintaining the yearning for forward momentum present in all of his work, as on nine-minute opener ‘Under The Pressure’. Six minutes of unashamedly expansive guitar rock evoke images of the open road in the vein of Bob Seger or Jackson Browne, before over three minutes of shimmering, hazy instrumental psychedelia leaves the road altogether and drifts along in the breeze; making the clearest reference to the album title thus far.
Given the album took two years to record, the pace inevitably shifts; as on melancholy piano ballad ‘Suffering’, while – like a dream sequence in a sci-fi film – chilling instrumental track ‘The Haunting Idle’ divides the layers of hazy textures spread over the road-weary ‘Eyes To The Wind’ and the point at which the muscular momentum is picked up again on the excellent ‘Burning’. You get the feeling that Granduciel could probably bust out a solo with the best of them, but he’s too clever to let something as showy as that detract from the mood and rolling rhythms that make this such an absorbing release from beginning to end. (Secretly Canadian)