Kurt Vile rocked Oslo hard last fall, plundering all the jewels our humble town had to offer– nachspiels, endless booze, gourmet burgers and cute blondes. When he unleashed “Freeway” during his set from the album Constant Hitmaker, yes, I admit dancing spastically on the bar like a special needs child. For some time I’ve been picturing an epic Route 66 road trip with this song blasting outta a flyin’ convertible, my chest bared and my black lab in the passenger’s seat. When Smoke Rings for my Halo came out last year, like a psychedelic godsend, I took a sick day off work.
A 6-track, 30-minute So Outta Reach EP was released shortly afterwards in November. The hordes of fans mobbing him in Oslo probably looked a bit similar to the cover of the new EP. I too eagerly acquired it, but the record entered and exited my stereo with a resounding thud. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe the environment wasn’t right, who knows. Here were tracks recorded in the same sessions as Smoke Rings. I had to figure out what the fuck just happened.
Kurt does a fuzzed out cover of, “Downbound Train”, which to no surprise has a voice synonymous with the earnest, northern modesty of Bruce Springsteen. But this EP is puzzling, the redux and the repetition. I picture a worn-out minstrel laden with uncertainty, as if his sudden onslaught of fame coincides with the nature of this album, on auto-pilot. The pressure to exert new riffs and textures; or just the tiredness of being tired. It’s not a bad Kurt, but it’s definitely his peripheral fraying and fringes. He’s been inhaling deeply and now he’s sighing out.
The sweet naivety we fell for, like a doe’s eyes in headlights buried in reverb and 12-string guitars– and his ever present themes– mourning the bleeding transience of life, Smoke Rings song, “Puppet to the man” comes in mind– taught us about the 21st century punk. Maybe that’s why his music is so tangible. They ain’t screaming across picket lines with unbridled rage, rather, they’re the slouching kid who won’t fight back, with crooked teeth and a lanky stride. Who drinks juice outta the carton. Who stole long johns from H&M. Who endures equal pangs of loneliness and his mom’s Prozac. Who owns stacks of records on vinyl and doesn’t take care of ’em. Who drives as drunkenly as possible doing donuts in a parking lot. Who can’t get no satisfaction from masturbating to skin mags, so gets hammered on forties instead. Coping with the day on a constant feeling of repressed horniness. Who listens to classical music on the loudest volume possible. Who nibbles at their fingernails like a mouse at a cheddar. Outta these teenage ashes does beauty arise as something irrepressibly iron-willed.
We see it on the EP’s best track, “Life’s a Beach” (or, “Life’s a Beeeeetch”): “I wanna be a boy / Don’t wanna to be a man / I got a dangerous memory / Got a memory man /” then revisited in a ‘reprise’ of the song in the end, “(so outta reach”). Poppier then the rest, his drawling singing-style comes back like a beautiful habit, just like the time he told us about his favorite fray-ann-annn-annnnyyy-duh or that he still lu-uh-uh-vvuhs you.
But moments on the EP drag on listlessly, sounding forced and at the end of a gesticulating journey. It sounds as if Kurt needs to lay to rest some forces he’s gotten stuck into or wrest himself from the mudpits of fatigued fingerpicking and refresh himself with a hot bath, vitamins and Neil Young … I expect the pressure is mounting but let’s be clear, we’ve yet to see a beaten Vile. His spark of melodic genius lays hibernating deep within, arising most likely after he’s taken a momentary breather.