Kurt Vile’s Quest to Feel Happy All Right

11/09/2011 4:00 AM |

Kurt Vile
So Outta Reach EP

The cover of So Outta Reach, a six-song EP born out of Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring for My Halo sessions, features a photo collage of fans posing with the Philly-based songwriter as he’s passed out on a couch. Whether they’re staged or candid is unclear, but it’s hard to picture him indulging in the sort of movie version of the rock star lifestyle they suggest—homeboy doesn’t seem to be dropping hundreds on haircuts, after all, and something tells you he prefers Budweiser (or Yuengling?) to Cristal-yet on one of the most melancholic tracks on an EP dominated by melancholy, he reminds himself, “It’s alright to feel alive.” With lingering, dirge-like guitar parts and a voice that dutifully navigates an all-encompassing fog, he seems unsure of whether to ignore his recent success or to partake in the pleasures is’s allowed.

Take “Life’s a Beach,” for instance. As a stand-alone track, it’s not unlike a Real Estate song (sunny, suburban, lolling, etc.), but the irony of the line “I’m so outta reach, life’s a beach” is revealed when the album ends with an exponentially more introverted but word-by-word reading of the same song, this one called “(so outta reach).” An even more immediate counteraction to the beachy sentiments is “Laughing Stock,” a dusty, chewed-off rumination on “the laughing stock of the whole town,” sung in J Mascis’ twangy sneer, followed by a cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train,” perhaps the greatest ode to lost blue-collar love as there ever was. One of ten siblings, Vile grew up in a three-bedroom house in Philly, and he famously worked as a forklift driver while dabbling in often thankless psych-rock experiments before signing to Matador, and so it makes sense that he’d grapple with with the career accolades that have suddenly piled so high. It also makes sense that they’re only going to grow higher.