On his seventh solo album, Bottle It In, Kurt Vile calls himself a “one-trick pony,” admitting that he’s “always had a soft spot for repetition.” The Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter’s slacker-rock aesthetic does rely heavily on loose, jangly guitar riffs which seem to loop ad infinitum, and musical repetition within individual songs is the name of the game across the album’s 13 sprawling tracks. But Vile’s aforementioned bit of self-deprecation belies how he mixes things up across the course of the entire album, varying tempos and textures from one song to the next.
Whether accompanied by pensive banjo on “Come Again,” sprightly chimes on the “Touch of Grey”-esque “Yeah Bones,” or gently plucked harp on the title track, Vile allows room for his songs to stretch out but avoids redundancy by rotating through diverse musical approaches and lyrical themes from track to track. He tends to favor stream-of-consciousness musings and mischief on Bottle It In, but he’s better served in the rare instances where he dons a more thoughtful tone. Vile’s distinctive drawl at its most tender on “Mutinies,” as he softly sings over acoustic guitar about popping pills to calm the turbulence in his head, a far more poignant revelation than the track’s off-handed observation that life was simpler before smartphones.
Overall, Bottle It In doesn’t offer nearly the same level of introspection as 2015’s B’lieve I’m Goin Down, instead employing only a winking self-awareness and insistent, impish wordplay that often serves little purpose beyond how it sounds rolling off Vile’s tongue. On the trite, languidly paced “Hysteria,” he limply sings, “Girl, you gave me rabies/And I don’t mean maybe,” while on “Check Baby,” he delivers idiomatic non sequiturs about being in a “whale of a pickle” and running “like chickens from the dickens,” which seem to simply fill up space. A similar improvisational feel rises up on the meandering, 10-minute “Skinny Mini” as Vile flubs the lyrics to the beginning of the song and yet leaves in the aborted take before starting again, a piece of sonic authenticity that isn’t matched by the ponderously wordy, contrived ode to an “all-substance, no jive-talking, fast-walking, girl babe.”
Despite the title track’s call for repression and emotional aloofness, Vile too often gushes about girls and friends, and he even gets sentimental about his young daughter on “Cold Was the Wind.” In contrast, the scofflaw streak on “Loading Zones” feels more brashly satisfying, as Vile vividly renders imagery of a hardscrabble town where he sticks it to the man by expertly dodging parking fees. Amid the hazy, stoner reverie that delves into themes of restlessness on the psych-folk-tinged “Bassackwards,” he recalls shooting the breeze with a friend on a radio show without a set format “because we like it like that.” This affinity for aimless trains of thought applies to the whole of Bottle It In, an album where Vile is quick to conjure up a bevy of interesting images or ideas but struggles to find a compelling way to contain them.