Album Review: Kurt Vile – (watch my moves)

[Verve; 2022]

Every time ‘Philly’s constant hitmaker’ announces an album, it brings excitement to all his avid listeners who, somehow, do not have any reservations as to the quality of the upcoming material. It is not that Kurt Vile has never released a disappointing song, it’s to do with his casual attitude, which is strung through every album and does not let true disappointment arise. Vile is not trying to blow anyone’s mind or become the next [insert name here]; he remains laid back and kind. This means that even his blander tracks to go down smoothly and still leave the listener hungry to hear what’s next. It helps that Vile’s own brand of psychedelic folk and country spliced with post-punk influences is the perfect vehicle for just that kind of attitude.

(watch my moves) is Kurt Vile’s first full LP since 2018’s rather somber Bottle It In. We inevitably see it as his first post-Covid record, and it seems that Vile is fully aware of that so he has delivered a set of songs to have ‘life go on’ to. The album, compared to its predecessors, sounds a lot more lonesome in tone, and most of it was recorded by Vile in his home studio by himself, although there are quite a few guest appearances here. With (watch my moves), Kurt is reaching out to his friends (such as the band Chastity Belt, Cate Le Bon and Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, who returns on drums for some tracks), something we were all looking to do during the pandemic.

Musically, the Vile’s signature moves are recognisable and reliably enjoyable. However, a few less common approaches are also present. His cover of the Bruce Springsteen deep cut “Wages of Sin” turns into something so undetachable from his own style that, if you didn’t know it was The Boss’ originally, you’d easily assume was a KV original. There’s also “Jesus On the Wire”, sounds surprisingly more like a classic folk track, but with the Kurt Vile touch and additional beautiful vocals and piano from Cate Le Bon. The first single in promotion of (watch my moves), “Like Exploding Stones”, is a musical bridge between the more somber and experimental Bottle It In and a return-to-roots freshness that characterises this album.

An unmissable track is “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone”, which Vile considers the centrepiece and most important composition of the record. It sounds like a mantra that repeats over and over with Vile vocally jumping octaves, but, despite seemingly simply constructed, it subtly seeps into the listener’s subconscious, evoking imagery of various dances. There’s a beautiful freedom in the closing of each verse, Vile going from a baritone to a falsetto: “I’m gooooone”.

The lyrics on (watch my moves) are both about where an artists finds themselves in a pandemic and how to not pat attention to it. On “Jesus on the Wire”, Vile delivers lessons to the modern man: “I’d like to teach him what it’s like to be alone”. He leans into his aimlessness on “Fo Sho” where he repeats “Prob’ly gonna be another long song”, indicating he has nowhere to go and nobody to see (although it fades out before five minutes, actually making it among the shortest on this 15-track, 74 minute record). There is also something haunting about “Mount Airy Hill” where he sings: “Been around but now I’m gone”. Vile wants you know he feels how we feels. It feels like this is what happened to us, doesn’t it? We were all there all together and then it was gone.

However, none of this feels sad; it is upholding the idea that life goes on. With (watch my moves), we don’t feel afraid of the unknown, it’s more like welcoming what’s coming next at an even faster pace. And that is Vile’s ethos in general: life goes on constantly and the search for a place in it can be in a major key. We have heard many albums about the pandemic and life within it, but this is more about about life after it; how to pick up the pieces of the lives we had before it and transform them into this new life that just relentlessly goes on. Vile’s music is attuned to the unrelenting progression of life.