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Kurt Vile Stretches In An Adventurous New Direction On 'Bottle It In'


This is FRESH AIR. Kurt Vile is a singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania and, yes, Kurt Vile is his real name. He's just released his first album in three years. It's his seventh release called "Bottle It In." Vile's profile has widened in recent years after he appeared on the TV show "Portlandia," recorded an album of duets with Courtney Barnett and turned up as a clue on "Jeopardy." Rock critic Ken Tucker says Vile's new album finds him stretching out in an adventurous way.


KURT VILE: (Singing) How's it going? Once was a thought inside my head, 'fore I reached 30 I'd be dead, but somehow on and on I go. I keep on rollin' with the flow.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: "Rollin With The Flow," which is the title and refrain of that song, could be Kurt Vile's career motto. He prides himself on making music that seems laid back, tossed off. An ideal Vile tune would be one that sounds made up on the spot with Vile freestyling, like the slightly uptight rock rapper he sort of sounds like on a number of this album's long, woozy cuts.


VILE: (Singing) Yo, yo, yo, she's a freewheeling lady baby high-strung well-off. Come on. She's a freewheeling lady baby high-strung well-off in the brains, and she means way well. She's a little bitty, skinny mini girl child old soul. She grown up real well. She'll chew you out if you deserve it, man, but I kind of like it, and I really love her. She a wild kind of muskrat, scrappy mo (ph) stay that way, baby girl, and I love her so - never gonna let her go.

TUCKER: That's a prime example of Kurt Vile minimalism as he muses about a woman he loves for more than 10 minutes on the song "Skinny Mini" with its minimal guitar chords. It's probably a good idea that "Skinny Mini" is programmed late in the album since its radical languidness might put off listeners new to Vile's easy-going expansiveness. This album, "Bottle It In," is front-loaded with lots of more immediately charming music, such as "Loading Zones," with its lovely melody and its use of parking spaces as a metaphor for the pressures of daily life.


VILE: (Singing) Back is achin' but I cannot sleep 'cause I want to be like I am the mayor of some godforsaken town. Sure, they knighted me yesterday, but who needs armor when I have an exoskeleton? I slip and squirm through the cracks, creep around by the - all the loading zones in my dirty little town. Get my shopping done, laundry too, drop some dead weight, clean my hands of what I need to clean my hands of and all for free by mayoral decree, all from zone to loading zone of my town, yeah.

TUCKER: Now in his late 30s, Vile sounds like one of the most well-adjusted pop musicians around. There's a generosity of spirit that pervades many of the new songs, a willingness to accept other people's character flaws while freely acknowledging his own. He's written a song called "Hysteria" that's one of the least hysterical pop songs I can think of.


VILE: (Singing) Don't you know I never knew you, but I - but I think I love you, girl, and what's your name? Boy, you know the devil's in the details. It's like, mm (ph), girl you gave me rabies, and I don't mean maybe.

TUCKER: At times, I'm inclined to think Vile doesn't work all that hard once he decides he needs to complete a rhyme. The couplet from "Hysteria" that goes, girl, you gave me rabies and I don't mean maybe, that paraphrase from Gene Vincent's 1950s hit "Be-Bop-A-Lula" at the end of the line is either a clever or an easy way out. But then I remember that this is what Vile labors to do - to send you sailing along on his stream of consciousness. Nowhere is this more evident than on his epic of unhurried romanticism, Bassackwards.


VILE: (Singing) I was on the beach, but I was thinking about the bay. Got to the bay, but by then I was far away. I was on the ground, but looking straight into some. But the sun went down, and I couldn't find another one for a while. For because it was an all-burning feeling in my chest to fill the void of a long unwatched by, well, the sun. Until the morn. Until when? Well, the sun's reborn. And so am I, from all the scorn buried deep within the psyche of my soul.

TUCKER: One of the things Vile is shrewd about is suggesting autobiography without ever actually spilling any real beans. To listen to the chatty, discursive lyrics that fill up "Bottle It In," you'd never know that vile is a married father of two or that he was 1 of 10 children. Indeed, as he lopes along in medium tempo, Kurt Vile becomes more and more enigmatic, a modest keeper of secrets. He's keeping it bottled in.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large at Yahoo TV. He reviewed Kurt Vile's new album called "Bottle It In." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about how Newt Gingrich pioneered the tactics of partisan warfare that are being used today. My guests will be McKay Coppins, a staff writer for The Atlantic. His article about Gingrich is called "The Man Who Broke Politics." And we'll talk about how Gingrich, former speaker of the House, is influencing politics today through his appearances on Fox News and his relationship with President Trump. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.