At this point, Philadelphia slacker-folk-rock antihero Kurt Vile has developed an easily recognizable sound. A cross-pollination of genes from Stephen Malkmus, J. Mascis, Neil Young, John Fahey, and dozens of other legendarily disillusioned souls, Vile’s signature, dreamed-out take on American folk-rock is virtually unmistakable: gleaming, intersecting guitars; despondent, grumbly, twangy vocals; Fahey-style finger picking; warmly melodic polyrhythms, etc.
In keeping with the polished leanings of this year’s ever-so-sweet Smoke Ring for My Halo, the So Outta Reach EP is a perfect continuation of that modestly lush collection. The 30-plus-minute offering opens with one of Vile’s strongest tracks yet, “The Creature”, a shimmering, melodic take on the spaghetti western sonic backdrop. Fahey-indebted finger work creates a web of glowing guitar melodies riding along a steady pulse, with Vile’s words disinterestedly dripping from his mouth.
In other words, typical Kurt Vile, with a subtle twist.
From the very beginning of So Outta Reach, Vile seems as despondent as he’s ever been. Lyrics slide interchangeably from song to song, getting lost in a murky sea of lackadaisical guitar and vocals. No matter what Vile’s singing about, it comes across as him ruminating on the very concept of being impartial to his own existence. Almost every song alludes to the set’s detached title, with lyrical mainstay “that’s alright for me” making several appearances. The tube fuzz-fueled second track is even apathetically titled “It’s Alright”. So Outta Reach, indeed.
But perhaps it’s Vile’s cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train” that best explains the plane of existence Vile wishes to operate on, while also expressing the level of unassuming awesomeness with which he does it. Essentially, Vile sticks to Springsteen’s original, merely fuzzing it out and injecting his vocal stylings, before messy guitars squeal their way to a wrecked, unconcerned finish. It’s as if Vile didn’t even try to make the song his own, yet somehow got the job done perfectly.
Vile is going down and loving every minute of it.
Essential Tracks: “The Creature”, “Laughing Stock”, and “Downbound Train”