Kurt Vile might be the closest thing we have to a modern Bob Dylan. He’s versatile, yet simple. His words always ring with intention, but never ache with melodrama. Each album is touched by his recognizable style, while still reframing at least a few aural and aesthetic elements. Like Dylan, he’s not perfect. His inoffensive qualities make him easily palatable, but to truly appreciate Kurt Vile takes at least a bit of concerted effort.
b’lieve i’m goin down… presents a less ethereal version of Vile’s sound, one that has shed some of the fuzz and feedback of 2011’s appropriately named Smoke Ring for My Halo. Smoke Ring and its follow-up, Waking on a Pretty Daze, were full of moody, lilting choruses and rambling verses. They evoked the aura of bedroom jam sessions and the image of a guitarist noodling notes on the porch as the last light of the day faded. Waking’s title-track is so totally chill, that time truly seems to slow as Vile’s distorted bridges push on.
Like Dylan, Kurt Vile is comfortable pivoting, and the more pointed lyrical compositions on b’lieve are proof of this. His voice still swells and breaks with his guitar, but tracks like “Life Like This” and lead single “Pretty Pimpin” feel like more cohesive statements. The bluesy wisdom that Vile puts on display is engaging on a different level than past songs — songs that were appealing in their passivity, making their points by never trying to too hard to make a point.
So while, Kurt Vile is yet to build the catalog of a Dylan, a Billy Brag or even a Conor Oberst, b’lieve i’m goin down… finds him on the path to songwriting independence. The 12 songs here are surely recognizable as his own, but they present his muse in a new light. Especially in the case of the upbeat “Dust Bunnies” and the almost Wilco-esque “Bad Omens”, it’s a pleasure to hear the different shades of Vile.