Stray tracks from slacker-savant singer-songwriter.
Stevie Chick 2011-11-04
As anyone who’s been following the career of this Philadelphian singer/songwriter can attest, Kurt Vile is a prolific sort. Already he’s released four albums, three EPs and a pair of singles since surfacing as a solo artist in 2008 (not to mention two EPs and an LP while a member of The War on Drugs). His fourth EP, So Outta Reach, collects together six tracks written for this year’s seductive Smoke Ring For My Halo full-length (indeed, they’re appended as a bonus-disc to the deluxe pre-Christmas re-release that album’s enjoying), and recorded shortly after it was completed.
If this suggests that So Outta Reach is a compilation of off-cuts considered not-good-enough for the album proper, well, that’s kind of what it sounds like; certainly there’s nothing here to match the hypnotic lilt of Peeping Tomboy, or the heavy-eyed ache of Baby’s Arm, two of Smoke Ring’s highlights. But if you’ve already succumbed to Vile’s ragged charms, you’ll know this taste, once acquired, is addictive.
The Creature revisits the bucolic intimacy of Smoke Ring, all reverb-laden finger-picking and Vile’s affecting slacker mumble – seriously, Kurt matches Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis when it comes to moving you with his sleepy, slurred vocals, like he cares so much he hasn’t the energy to sound like he cares. Downbound Train welcomes Vile’s backing group The Hunchbacks to the stage, its blue-collar tale of hardship lent a Springsteen-esque heroism by their thrumming chug. They similarly gild the loping strum of Laughing Stock, rumbling like thunder behind Vile’s croak of "some smoke to take the edge off", and lend a widescreen depth to the slight but unforgettable melodies of It’s Alright.
The EP closes with two takes of its finest song, Life’s a Beach, its koan-like lyric of "I’m so outta reach / yeah, life’s a beach" something to ruminate on while bathed in the easy-going wash of its chords and Vile’s echo-bolstered vocal. On the second take, Vile and his Hunchbacks sound like a lo-fi Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who similarly made such winning melodic rock sound utterly effortless.
Perhaps a lesser entry in the grand scheme of his discography, So Outta Reach sounds like Kurt’s hardly even trying. But this laidback attitude – and the audacious quality of the songs that seem to find him with such ease – is the key to much of his abundant charm, and even working at half-speed he delivers.