On (watch my moves), Kurt Vile achieves a level of comfortability that seems practically impossible. Even for a songwriter known for his spacey, easygoing style of indie rock, his ninth LP and major-label debut makes the idea of building on and gradually refining your signature sound – while still paying tribute to your musical peers and heroes – sound like a relatively simple prospect. But it’s not the fact that the record maintains a loose, languid atmosphere throughout its 73-minute runtime that makes it such a delightful and inviting listen. It’s what grows out of this breezy landscape: the surprising moments of inspiration, self-confidence, and near transcendence that seem to crop up from nowhere, in the middle of a thought, or as a random memory crosses the mind. Unlike most established artists attempting to make a “sprawling” statement, (watch my moves) is rich and lovingly rendered without coming off as self-indulgent, which makes it feel like a rare blessing.
At this point in his career, Vile seems to know himself better than ever. Though he’s not the kind of songwriter who takes himself too seriously, he remains playfully self-aware in a way that feels natural, like someone who’s been hustling for a while and has earned the privilege of taking it slow. On the captivating lead single ‘Like Exploding Stones’, he welcomes us to “the KV hard drive-in movie marathon,” where “thoughts become pictures become movies in my mind,” before quickly breaking the illusion: “I’m just kidding and I’m just playing/ And this is just the way that I’m making a living.” Yet the joke ends up underlining his personality rather than downplaying it, much less cloud the anxiety that’s baked into the track. On ‘Fo Sho’, he sings, “Even if I’m wrong, gonna sing-a-my song till the ass crack o’ dawn/ And it’s probably gonna be another long song,” taking pleasure in stretching out the syllables. It doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea.
(watch my moves) makes for a warm, satisfying experience even if you’re just putting it on for the vibe, but it’s the kind of record that’s most rewarding when you pay closer attention to how the music snakes in and out of Vile’s free-flowing meditations. Either way, you don’t doze off to it so much as you tune in – and if it loses you for a bit, it’s not hard to fall back into its groove. While others might focus on abstract fantasies, Vile’s brand of dreamy psychedelia zeroes in on just how present you can feel when you’re in a hazy, transitional state, which makes it feel uniquely grounded. (watch my moves) might sound far removed from the lofi aesthetic of his early work, but it still feels like you’re watching him piece things together, in his mind or in a song, as he’s traveling from one place to the next or trying to settle in. “Words to this song come and go and fly away,” he observes on ‘Say the Word’, which reads like a particularly inspired diary entry.
Occasionally, Vile’s stream of consciousness will lead to an unexpected revelation; in that song, it’s that “Every time I grow into a man/ Chaos comin’ ’round the bend.” Growth and childhood are recurring themes on the LP, which starts off with him “Shrinking back into a little kid/ Just as I’m just getting old,” on the piano-led opener ‘Going on a Plane Today’. His perspective can range from mature to absent-minded, but what’s refreshing is that it’s more emotional than most records of its ilk – ‘Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)’ might be the most affecting song here – and even downright sentimental at times, like on the endearing ‘Hey Like a Child’, where he sings, “In a dream I drew my blueprint/ And it was you on every page that I drew there.”
What he says doesn’t always end up being incredibly meaningful, but it feels genuine and organic nonetheless. And even when there’s no particular destination lyrically, he’ll light things up by turning to a guitar solo or creating a vibrant sense of community, whether he’s working with his longtime band the Violators or teaming up with the likes of Chastity Belt, Cate Le Bon, and percussionists Stella Mozgawa and Sarah Jones. As much as it finds him embracing collaboration and wearing his influences on his sleeve (the album includes a compellingly haunting rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Wages of Sin’), though, this is a Kurt Vile record through and through. That means it’s about the journey, which means it’s all about time passing by: “I’ve been drivin’ all day and night inside my mind,” he concludes on the final track, “And inside I’mma stay for awhile.”