Earlier this year, Kurt Vile released Smoke Ring For My Halo, an exceptional collection of earnest rock songs that found the Philadelphia singer-songwriter penning melancholy laments from an endearingly vulnerable place. He confessed that sometimes he just wants to hide in his baby’s arms, questions whether he should just sit around all day frowning, and that he fears he’ll just get stuck without being able to undo what got him there. Vile’s charming slacker drawl is a big part of what made those ten songs so compelling, but his insecure ruminations were equally matched with sometimes noisy, often delicate folk-rock melodies that established a firm link between Dinosaur Jr. and Nebraska.
The six songs that comprise new EP So Outta Reach find Vile in a similar place musically and lyrically, and with good reason – the songs were recorded during the same sessions as those of Smoke Ring. A song like “The Creature” maintains the kind of dreamy folk as a track like “On Tour,” complete with disjointed, stream-of-consciousness observations (“She says I’m a creature of habit… she’s so cute with her glance“). On closer inspection, however, it’s easy to see why some of these songs didn’t quite fit on the album; several of them have a more atmospheric, psychedelic sound, slightly drifting off from the more earthy tunes of the album, while one of them is a Bruce Springsteen cover. Yet as outtakes go, So Outta Reach is a remarkably strong collection of songs.
So Outta Reach gets off to a gorgeous, gentle beginning with “The Creature,” but soon thereafter Vile begins to layer on the effects with “It’s Alright,” a dense track of fuzz and big cymbal crashes, delivering what seems, simultaneously like one long interlude and an extended climax. That fuzz grows ever more massive on “Laughing Stock,” a rustic and rootsy track that leans heavy on a trippy spaciousness. Yet “Life’s a Beach,” and by extension its companion title track, returns to the catchier realm of tracks like “Jesus Fever” and “In My Time,” and backs it up with some guest drumming from Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley. There’s still a twinge of uncertainty and restlessness in Vile’s lyrics as he sings “I wanna be a boy/ don’t wanna be a man,” and his downcast reading of the song’s title certainly isn’t too convincing a celebration of frivolity, but for young male angst it’s still pretty damn fun.
The Mascis-meets-Springsteen combination still looms large over So Outta Reach, and in a much more explicit way. Vile includes a cover of Springsteen’s “Downbound Train,” which recalls nothing so much as early ’90s Dinosaur Jr. Vile does a pretty kickass job with it, of course, as he does with the bulk of the other tracks here. There is definitely less cohesion throughout the EP than on Smoke Ring For My Halo, but that’s not much of a problem when, overall, it’s still an impressive continuation of what he’s’ been doing so well all along.
The War on Drugs – Future Weather
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
Dinosaur Jr. – Where You Been
Stream: Kurt Vile – “The Creature”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.