Album Review: Kurt Vile’s “b’lieve i’m goin down…”

By Izzy Yellen

Kurt Vile’s newest release is a powerful look into getting through menial life, identity and rolling with the punches. While the lyrics are autobiographical, many listeners can also relate them to themselves and think about their own lives. With instrumental bits throughout the album, it is easy to mull over both the content and personal experiences.

The album overall is extremely accessible, making nice background music but also grabing the listener’s attention, due to the density of the lyrics. Throughout “b’lieve i’m goin down…,” Vile mixes warm sounds—fingerpicked guitar, banjo, overdubbed vocals and piano—with more unconventional sounds, like drum machines and subtle synth pads. The mix provides a background that doesn’t take away from the vocals but remains interesting and calming when the vocals drop out.

While the compositional and instrumental aspects of the album drew me in at first, it was the subject matter that made me listen again and again. Vile opens himself up to his listeners and shares his contemplations with a relaxed and sometimes comical but always sophisticated tone. The feelings he presents his listeners are applicable to most everyone, enabling the art he made to be shared easily. However, the lyrics still come off as experiential and straight from the heart.

The connectedness Vile provides between the album and the listener was perhaps my favorite quality. He thoughtfully blends instrumental sections with vocal sections, which, for me, created two distinct realms of music, one in which I could take in the words he sang and the other in which I could ponder, analyze and think about what they meant to me.

It is clear that this was his intention, as the instrumentals alone do not really go anywhere; there are typically no focused-on solos and the chord progressions do not drastically change. That is fine. It is almost as if the album lays back to let the listener do the same while also considering its meditative lyrics and vibes. If these sections were cut out, which can be common for similar music, the album would not only lose about half its length but also an important aspect of it, to directly connect to its listeners. Due to the presence of the instrumentals it is more interactive than other folk records.

“b’lieve i’m goin down…” gets better with each listen. Even after each full listen, I can still uncover more in the lyrics, and the collage of instruments is consistently pleasing to the ears. It is rare that I find an album that is not jazz, minimalism or the like to listen to in the background. This album does a good job of being listened to actively or as ambience, making it not only unique in this regard but an album that I can put on whenever. If an album can do that, it is rated highly in my book.