Kurt Vile has had a signature sound for years, but Bottle It In — his seventh solo album, out today — is the first time that sound feels cemented, as if its parameters have been drawn. He’s reached that moment in a veteran career when he understands his strengths and is playing to them, refining his mastery rather than forcing himself into uncomfortable new space. That renders the album unsurprising, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If at any point you’ve loved Vile’s dazed, drawling, prophetically poetic heartland rock, Bottle It In overflows with music for you. He has marked out his territory and is casually grazing it, harvesting fresh wisdom and beauty as he moves on into middle age.
As ever, Vile’s songwriting is haunted by melancholy, but the post-contentment crisis that marked 2015’s b’lieve i’m goin down seems to have dissipated in clouds of smoke. He is in his groove here, spinning guitar tapestries on the bright and punchy “Yeah Bones” and turning out surreal narratives like this, from “Hysteria”: “Stop this plane because I want to get off/ Pull over somewhere on the side of a cloud/ And watch me get out/ Watch me go down/ And the rest is hysteria/ And I stole that/ But hey Mom, look at me now.”
At 79 minutes, Bottle It In is Vile’s longest album to date; he’s not exactly corking himself up in a tight space as the title might imply. Three times he lets a song stretch out to 10 minutes, luxuriating in vibes, textures shifting like the slow evolution of a landscape. One of those, the stoned koan “Bassackawards,” is an instant classic of his discography, its sound and subject matter floating just above the surface of the Earth, tethered only by a simple, steady beat and Vile’s repeated assurance, “I was on the ground.” It’s one of those drug-trip songs that masterfully puts you in its author’s headspace.
You feel like you really get to know Kurt Vile listening to these tracks. On “Loading Zones,” his goofy sense of humor manifests in a song-length gag about illegal parking. On “One Trick Ponies,” he pays affectionate tribute to his buddies — appropriate for a rocker from the City of Brotherly Love. It’s an immersive, ingratiating experience, and you can step into the whole thing below.
Bottle It In is out now on Matador.