By Ethan Cook
As the seasons transition from the warm days of summer to the chilly evenings of winter I find myself looking for musical change as well. I spent the summer listening to punk-rock and heavy-metal; music that made me feel full of energy and motion. Now, as the days are overcast and I find myself constantly putting on more layers, I look for a different kind of music to soundtrack my life, and I found it in Kurt Vile’s newest EP: Speed, Sound, Lonely KV.
Vile’s dense-but-casual guitar lines and rambling lyrics make me feel calm and centered on days spent wading through an endless tide of homework. This EP has the same energy of waking up on a snowy day, pouring yourself a cup of coffee and daydreaming as the snowflakes fall. Those are the moments of my day I’ve been holding on to lately, even as I scramble to meet deadlines and demands from everywhere in my life. I hope this review can convey some of how this collection of songs makes me feel. Understanding why I enjoy the music I do is becoming something of a therapeutic act for me, so in this piece I aim to dig into a song or two off the EP, as well as what makes Vile’s music so unique.
By far my favorite song of the EP is actually not by Kurt Vile; it’s John Prine’s classic, “How Lucky.” Prine, who died this year, and Vile combine for the duet in an understated, yet emotional, rendition of the song. “How Lucky” is short, only twelve lines, but conveys a message that takes on a new meaning in these unique times (as many things seem to do these days). Vile and Prine join to sing “Well, there are all these things that I don’t think I remember / Hey, how lucky can one man get.” I’ve been feeling like that a lot lately. My pre-Covid life was pretty great, and it’s easy to take for granted all that I had. Things are “bassackwards” now, as Kurt would say, and some days it feels like my old way of life is gone forever. That doesn’t mean life still can’t be good, though. I have music, friends and so much more to be grateful for. As winter sets in for real, and the unfortunate seasonal depression with it, I try to remember all the good things in my life. How lucky can one man get, right?
Part of what makes Vile so unique to me is the absent-minded, rambling quality to his singing and guitar playing. He seems almost distracted at times, his head in the clouds as he effortlessly lays down intricate guitar lines and tongue-twister lyrics. Vile, and Prine, have a calm, well-weathered aura that makes me feel like they’ve lived through all the ups and downs life can throw at them, and came out the other side with a story to tell. The sound of Vile’s work — a synthesis of classic country, folk storytelling, psychedelic rock and even hints of grunge — is just as unique as his lyrics and style. The gold hidden in the music is Vile’s ability to layer together all these pieces and create a beautiful, sonic collage, dense with masterful craftsmanship and emotion from a life well lived.
Thanks for reading! My “Further Exploration” list can be found below.
- One of our local record shops, Strictly Discs, has a rad John Prine mural:
- Monet’s series of paintings of haystacks at different times in the year:
- Look Out for My Love by Neil Young. I think how Young (and associated acts) influenced Kurt Vile’s work is pretty clear in the guitar parts, vocal style, and use of traditional country elements.