Kurt Vile: The Early Years
2003: "Me and Work"
2004: "Ocean City"
2009 is looking to be Kurt Vile's breakout year. He just released God is Saying This to You (Mexican Summer) and word of mouth has been mostly of the drool variety. This April, Woodsist is rereleasing Constant Hitmaker, Vile's sleeper disc from last year, and there is also a big label deal in the works.
I have been listening to Kurt Vile's homemade cd-r's for the past few years and it's been a pleasure to see him grow. Of course, that growth isn't always apparent to recent converts. Both God and Constant Hitmaker are actually compilations, handpicked from Vile's vast catalog of bedroom recordings. So what the new listeners don't get is the wider palette and occasionally rough edges of Vile's earlier work. "Detoxanne," from Kurt's 2003 debut Ten Songs, features clanging percussion and a vaguely klezmer feel. Rarities and Rejects, also from 2003, features a very indie cover of Pavement's "Zurich is Stained."
Still, these were diversions. Many of Vile's key songs from the early period (many of which have now been compiled) were his acoustic ones. At the time, Vile was most comfortable in Fahey mode, casting lonesome and haunting melodies over fingerpicked guitarlines. He also tended to write more direct lyrics. "Me and Work," from Ten Songs is a classic example, with Vile articulating a sense of purpose out of passivity.
Vile continued to broaden his sound on 2004's 9 Recordings with the Syd Barret-like "Ocean City" and the droning, sample-based "Best Love." By 2005's Trial and Error, Vile began experimenting with ambient and electronic elements and tightening his compositions. A prime weakness on his first two albums were overlong songs.
Vile really turned the corner in 2006 with the remarkable Accidents EP, which featured his strongest songs to date. By now he'd replaced the loner folk vibe with warped, cryptic pop and it fit him well. On "Don't Get Cute," he sang "I wanna be a success, give me my style." He emphasized the word "suck" as he sang "success," as if to make a point of the inevitable dilution of talent that comes with the territory. Perhaps he'd grown bitter, or maybe he could feel it coming. Either way, it was here that Vile finally synthesized his influences into a refined, cohesive aesthetic.
It will be interesting to see Vile move beyond his bedroom recordings. As the appetite for his work grows, Vile will have to create new material on cue, a challenge that often stumps emerging artists who have had so much time to tinker with their initial batch of compositions. When he does, I'll be the first in line to buy whatever this fascinating artist delivers.
2003 - 10 Songs (Self-released)
2003 - Rarities and Rejects (Self-released)
2004 - 9 Home Recordings (Self-released)
2007 - Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher)
2005 - Trial and Error (Self-released)
2006 - Accidents (Self-released)
2009 - God Is Saying This To You (Mexican Summer)