Kurt Vile: ‘(Watch My Moves)’ Album Review

Kurt Vile’s opening lyrics (watch my moves) The single “Flyin’ (Like a Fast Train)” describes a feeling almost everyone – musicians, in particular – can relate to in some way after the events of the past few years. “Flyin’ like a fast train, I don’t feel nothing / Until I pull into my station, I just crashed and burned,” whispers Vile, as if dazed. Life came to a halt so suddenly, society got a whiplash, and with nowhere to go and worries hanging in the air, we all had to find somewhere to turn. (watch my moves), the Philadelphia “fry-pop” veteran’s eighth solo album (and first for Verve Records), is a psych-folk monument to the WFH era, as an encased Vile alternates between fending off anxiety and find solace in the imagination. Self-produced and recorded at home in Vile’s new studio, OKV Central, with additional recording at Rob Schnapf’s Mant Sounds in Los Angeles, the album spreads and roams, but it won’t lose you. It’s like spending an afternoon with that friend who always knows how to make you smile, even when life seems too hard for you.

Sometimes that smile is accompanied by a grimace, even when you know everything will be fine in the end. Vile constructs the album’s opener “Goin on a Plane Today” around a cute piano progression, as if to reinforce the regression to childhood imposed on him by his fear of flight: “Things become a bit weird / My mind’s gotten foggy, my memory’s unclear / My manhood’s compromised / Watch me go back to being a little kid,” he sings, later adding trumpet alongside James Stewart’s tenor sax (Sun Ra Arkestra) The idea returns in another form on “Hey Like a Child”, where a woozy, whammy guitar riff evokes Vile’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze days, and an idyllic vagueness spreads over his sunny writing as “Hey like a child, you walk into my life” later becomes “Hey like a child, you waltzed into my lights”. One line about being “high as hell on love” borders on schmaltzy, but the rest of the track is achingly sweet, its affections warm as a light amid the album’s loneliest tracks: “Hey like a ray, you shine into my life / Hey like a cure for all things under the sun / In a dream I drew my blueprint / And it was you on every page I drew there.

Vile’s big heart also beats on “Say the Word,” where he and Violators bandmate Rob Laakso trade vocals over a steady low end, acoustic fingerpicking, and synth accents. Although Vile spends the song struggling to express himself (“The words of this song, how can I sing to say?”), he clings to a constant in the face of abrupt change: “I don’t know much- thing for real, but I know the only word is love to see us through / And if I become a tree later, well make mine be a beechwood with long limbs / ‘Cause sometimes they shake , so let me do some of that then in the wind.” It’s one of many moments on the record where Vile retreats into his mind to find solace.” Pink Lemonade [pours] tap” on “Flyin (like a fast train),” while on the serene, almost lullaby folk ballad “Chazzy Don’t Mind,” Vile and Chastity Belt observe, “This teapot sings in a beautiful falsetto. In that same verse, he and his collaborators remind us that these fantasies are everywhere, just waiting to be ripped into the air: “My mind is humming / When I walk, I dream, stepping off skateboards casters / A soft hiss of brand new asphalt swells / Just from, well… / I’m really just looking outside from inside.

Vile’s head can rub against the clouds at times, but his feet are firmly grounded. Although overall, (watch my moves) is a little looser and freer than his 2018 effort Bottle it up, it never feels like Vile is indulging aimlessly, it’s more that he knows exactly who he is and what he wants to deliver in an album. While he was singing Bottle it up“One Trick Ponies”, “I’ve always had a thing for repetition” – de facto (watch my moves) The title track “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)” reflects this, with Vile’s slide guitar, keys and spaced-out vocals casting a swinging psych-folk spell. A track earlier, on lead track “Like Exploding Stones”, Vile finds respite from mental turmoil in music (“Feedback massaging my cranium”), but not before electric guitars, synths, bass and drums mixed together , and his falsetto vocalizations all lock into a groove that doesn’t let go. Later, Stewart’s saxophone bridge gives the melody a transcendent element, leaving those “exploding stones” behind. Vile rides those grooves, but jumps before they give way, maintaining the spatial yet confident sensibility he’s honed for years.

Not only does Vile know exactly what his path is, but he’s also more aware than ever of the larger creative consciousness he’s tapped into – another source of community and solace in scary times. On “Goin on a Plane Today”, he takes courage in “Listenin’ to ‘Heart of Gold’ / Gonna open up for Neil Young / Man, life can sure be fun”, while on the windy twang of “Cool Water” , it pays a nice tribute to Hank Williams and Marty Robbins. He gives Chastity Belt (or “My Chazzybelt Girlfriends”) a shout out to their laid-back team, and duets with Cate Le Bon (on percussion by Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint) on the bright, funny psych-folk of “Jesus on a Wire”. Bruce Springsteen looms large on the record – Vile quotes him on the closer “Stuffed Leopard” and covers him on an expansive and atmospheric “Wages of Sin”, which Springsteen called “one of my best and most beautiful songs.” the lesser known. (watch my moves) finds Vile in touch with his friends and idols, but more than anything he stays connected to himself— his identity as an artist. “Even if I’m wrong, I’ll sing my song until dawn,” he insists on “Fo Sho,” “and it’ll probably be another long song.”

Scott Russell is Doughmusic editor and he’ll come up with something clever later. He’s on Twitter, if you like tweets: @pscottrussell.

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