One of my highlights at Club Uncut last year was an epic show by Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile, which spiralled off into some phenomenally unstructured solo reveries, during which Vile seemed to be carving an unusual and comparatively original new space for folkish singer-songwriters.
That sense is compounded with this terrific new EP, “Square Shells”, wherein Vile – presumably temporarily – parks a lot of the garage ramalam that came to the surface on last year’s “Childish Prodigy”, instead growing the ideas implicit in songs like “Heart Attack”. At times, they sound shapeless, unanchored, wilfully deconstructed, but there’s still a motor and determination running through Vile’s songs, and a certain attitude which leads him, on “I Wanted Everything”, to proclaim, “I wanted everything… but I think that I only got most of it.”
“Square Shells” opens straightforwardly enough with “Ocean City”, a strolling acoustic trinket that seems kin to various dazed indie-rock troubadours from the early ‘90s – Evan Dando, maybe? – albeit with a touch of Vile’s trademark blues and some zapped lo-fi synth interference at the death. “Invisibility: Nonexistent” is the killer, though: seven and a half minutes of dreamy motorik jangles, wavering frequencies and not-quite-malfunctioning drum machine that reminds me somehow of a folk song being rendered out of “Another Green World”. Or, perhaps, of a fragmented update of the experiments Lou Barlow was trying out as Folk Implosion nearly half a lifetime ago. Whatever, it’s one of the most beguiling things I’ve heard in quite a while.
By the instrumentals “Losing Momentum (For Jim Jarmusch)” and “The Finder”, Vile’s heading straight into a kind of sketchy ambient territory, and if “I Wanted Everything” features some gorgeous fingerpicking and an insidious little tune, it still feels hazy, out of focus, more or less blasted. Like some of the material at that Club Uncut show, “I Know I Got Religion” sounds as if it’s being made up as it unspools, yet Vile still makes it compelling, due maybe to some charisma or an innate musical compass that survives even the most ambulatory detours.
Finally, “Hey, Now I’m Movin”, which again has something of Lindsey Buckingham to it, albeit a Lindsey Buckingham whose obsessive perfectionism has been replaced with, at the very least, a good impression of slacker laissez-faire.
Next up, there’s a new album due in the autumn which, since it’s been produced by John Agnello, will presumably focus on Vile’s sturdier rock predilections. No bad thing; let’s just hope that this increasingly fascinating artist doesn’t totally break up the jamming and mellow sides of his music…