“Listening to ‘Heart of Gold’ / Gonna open up for Neil Young / Man life can sure be fun / Imagine if I knew this when I was young too.” That’s how Kurt Vile welcomes you into (watch my moves), his ninth studio album and first for a major label. If Vile’s signing to legendary jazz label Verve had you worried that Vile was going to sand down some of his more endearing rough edges, then the opening track ‘Goin on a Plane Today’ fully reiterates that Vile can’t be anybody other than himself.
Vile still sounds like a backwater yokel trying to fake his way through indie rock. There’s that southern drawl that he sings with even though he’s from Philadelphia. There are the goofy stoner moments that filter into even the most heartfelt and genuine songs. There are still the strange mixes of electronic buzzes, fuzzy noises, and twangy guitar riffs. There are still songs that talk about seeing vampires and hanging out in your underwear. Vile is 42 years old, but somehow still feels like he’s eternally somewhere between 12 and 25. Growing up doesn’t work for everyone, and Vile should continue to avoid it at all costs.
That’s because (watch my moves) doesn’t feel sophomoric or immature. Instead, it feels light and loose-limbed. Vile unfurls his 15 songs in an unhurried style, completely immune to ideas like editing and quality control. The singer-songwriter is still letting out his ideas like he’s a kid with no record deal and nothing to lose. No other artist in the world would use their first major record label deal to revert back to their most primal and easy-going self.
But Vile isn’t like any other artist. He’s in no rush, which becomes plain as day when songs like ‘Wages of Sin’ and ‘Like Exploding Stones’ just continue to jam on in seemingly endless fashion for well over seven minutes. Vile has never been afraid to stretch out and let it flow for better or worse, but never has an album had fewer stakes than (watch my moves), which just might be its genius.
You can hop in just about anywhere and feel like you haven’t missed anything: the country-tinged ‘Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)’, the brief interlude ‘(shiny things)’, the buzzy ‘Fo Sho’. Some albums demand you pay close attention or you’ll miss the meticulous work and exact detail of its construction. (watch my moves) is seemingly devoid of construction, and might even be laughing at the very notion of being put together at all.
Sometimes it’s difficult to think that there are even other people in the room with Vile, but there are: Cate Le Bon makes an appearance on ‘Jesus on a Wire’ while Chastity Belt is on hand to turn ‘Chazzy Don’t Mind’ into a duet. But it’s all filtered through Vile’s unique worldview: the difference between an impassioned love song, a casual knock-off track about drinking beer, and an impromptu Bruce Springsteen cover is negligible. It’s all one big silly melting pot where enlightenment can come from either a major emotional experience or a Simpsons marathon.
Throughout the 75 minutes of the full-length album, Vile goes from plains to trains to automobiles without ever actually seeming to leave his couch. Even when the smoke lifts on genuinely touching and complicated tracks like ‘Cool Water’ or album closer ‘Stuffed Leopard’, Vile never lets anything get too heavy or weighty. (watch my moves) floats around like few other modern albums could even dream of, unburdened by the need to come off as “art”. Vile doesn’t make “art”: he makes music, and if you see it as “art”, then that’s just your prerogative, man.
(watch my moves) is the complete opposite of ambitious: it’s bloated, overstuffed, meandering, and even at times utterly pointless. But Vile rides on so much charm that the album never feels like anything other than a light-as-air jaunt through his unique psyche. Sometimes there’s nothing better than sitting on a couch, lighting up a joint, and wondering whether what you’re experiencing is the dumbest thing in the world or the smartest. Next time you’re in between Jackass reruns, consider putting on (watch my moves) to experience a similar high.