Looking back at my blog on “Smoke Ring For My Halo”, I started with an Uncut quote from Kurt Vile that is salient here, too. “We recorded a lot of rockers,” he said of “Smoke Ring”, “but they just didn’t seem to fit.”
“So Outta Reach” is an EP of reworked outtakes that, one would assume, might provide a rockier correlative to the predominantly mellow drift of “Smoke Ring”. But as “The Creature” gently works its way through some trademark Vile ambulations over nearly six minutes, that doesn’t immediately seem to be the case.
Hard to say quite why, but “The Creature” and much else here feels at once looser and more intricate than much of “Smoke Ring”, if that’s possible. I know a good few of you love that record – it came out top, you might remember, when we did the maths to find 2011’s Halftime Best Album. If you haven’t picked it up, bear in mind that a deluxe edition appears to be scheduled for November, with the original set bundled with “So Outta Reach” (and there’s a good feature on him in the next Uncut, while I think about it).
Anyhow, “It’s Alright” keeps going at the same gradually tumbling, more or less somnabulent pace. But the sound is fractionally denser and heavier, somewhat ominous even, and the extended closing jam is richer and more elaborate than ever. In another one of those awkward Vile contradictions, he and his band sound more confident, while retaining a tentative air.
Even something as stunned and dazed as “Laughing Stock” seems palpably more robust: indeed, it seems to solidify and take shape as it goes on, one of those occasions when Vile engagingly seems to be writing a song and recording it simultaneously. As ever, though, these are deceptively crafted songs – “Life’s A Beach” especially, this morning – at least the equal of anything on “Smoke Ring…”
There is a cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train”, too, on “So Outta Reach”, just to make the connection between Vile and The War On Drugs more explicit than ever. The absence here of a blog on “Slave Ambient” is more down to slackness rather than apathy. It’d be rather inconsistent to be a Vile fan and not find a few things to cherish in Adam Granduciel’s work: “Brothers”, in particular, could have been smuggled pretty effectively onto “Smoke Ring” without much of a disturbance.
Nevertheless, Granduciel mostly seems to focus his concept in a much more overtly self-conscious way. It’d be naïve to imagine that Vile’s flakey, charming affectlessness and apparent spontaneity wasn’t in some way contrived, but the War On Drugs seem inordinately wedded to their big idea; to that marriage of guyish classic rock and downy, layered ambience.
Much of the time, of course, it works brilliantly. It’s interesting, though, to forget about the purported Krautrock vibes that underpin Granduciel’s fine songs. Then, occasionally, they can sound, in the cases of “I Was There” and “Baby Missiles” in particular, far away from experimentation and closer to a muted take on the heavily-produced ‘80s Springsteen.
There’s a moment, too (somewhere in that sequence of “Your Love Is Calling My Name”/”The Animator”/”Come To The City” maybe?), when an uncomfortable antecedent comes to mind. Trad man hurt, and whooping, in an expansive, unearthly soundscape, with big drums? Didn’t U2, Eno and Lanois write the book on that at some point in the mid ‘80s?