Since his earliest self-produced CD-Rs, Philadelphia psych-pop master Kurt Vile has referred to himself as “Philly’s Constant Hitmaker“—and while he gave himself that name with a sly wink, he was also nodding toward the songwriting prowess that would result in him becoming one of his home city’s most celebrated rock artists. “I’m always thinking about catchy music, even though it’s fried, or sizzled, out,” he says. “It’s my own version of a classic thing—it’s moving forward and backward at the same time.”
On his latest album, (watch my moves), Vile pulls his talents as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer in unexpected directions—and the result is a vibrant, yet meditative album propelled by Vile’s laid-back charm and curious spirit. Every lyric has been chiseled down into an aphorism, every bloom of distorted guitar or murmuring synth helping create that “fried” pop. “It’s about songwriting. It’s about lyrics. It’s about being the master of all domains in the music,” he says of his ninth album and first in partnership with a major label, Verve Records.
The album gets its name from an aside in the blissed-out “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone),” which has cotton-ball-cloud slide guitar and Vile bending his voice into its lower and upper registers as he sings of novelty dances and his view high above an urban sanctuary’s summit. It’s the spiritual and musical centerpiece of (watch my moves), showcasing Vile’s potent songwriting as well as his ability to crystallize moments with his lyrics.
“When I listen to ‘Mount Airy Hill,’ I know I’ve arrived somewhere,” says Vile. “It’s some kind of new breed of KV tune, some kind of updated version of myself. When I blast it in my headphones, I feel like I’m in my basement, and skateboarding in my ‘hood, and walkin’ through my woods, and hangin’ with my three baby girls (one of whom is my wife, to be clear). Either way it’s the sound of the elements around me—where I’m from, where I live, and where I’m going.”
(watch my moves) is Vile’s debut on Verve Records, a label that both fits and fuels his musically adventurous nature. “It just shook things up where I wanted to make this epic record,” says Vile. “I sit around listening to jazz records all the time, and I like the idea of tappin’ into a different world…. and it’s cool to be extended family with The Velvet Underground and John and Alice Coltrane.”
While Vile is clearly inspired by a record store’s worth of legendary artists and 21st-century contemporaries, (watch my moves) proves that his musical vision is singular. “Elvis could be like, ‘(watch my moves)‘—like, literally, ‘Check out my dance moves.’ Granted, I don’t have great dance moves, but I am sort of always hustlin’, you know,” Vile laughs. “And I’ve been doin’ my thing for a long time. So, people just better watch out in one way or another.”
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