As the playful piano figure sets up “Goin’ on a Plane Today”, the opening track from Kurt Vile‘s ninth solo full-length studio album (watch my moves), it becomes apparent that Vile has reaped the benefits of spending time with mentors such as Terry Allen and the late John Prine since his last outing, 2018’s acclaimed Bottle It In. Vile has always danced on the edge of the same type of quirkiness that Allen and Prine share, but now, just like his heroes, there is a complete lack of self-consciousness, which makes his seemingly blithe delivery all the more captivating.
Featuring the tenor sax of Sun Ra Arkestra‘s James Stewart, Vile muses with an intentional pun on that first song, “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.” Throughout (watch my moves), Vile is equal parts bemused and amazed at where his life’s journey has taken him. Young is conjured again, if maybe subconsciously, on the album’s first single, on which Vile reunites with his longtime band, the Violators. “Like Exploding Stones” creates its own space and time, causing an almost trance-like state.
(watch my moves) is also Vile’s first effort for the venerable Verve label, home to a legendary roster that includes everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to the Velvet Underground and the Mothers of Invention. That diverse field makes Vile seem right at home as the album glides along at a nonchalant pace, tempos and grooves never moving above a steady, sunny afternoon stroll.
Vile recorded most of (watch my moves) at OKV Central, his Philadelphia home studio, which inspired the track “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)”, which includes the line that makes up the record’s title. Other parts were handled in LA at Mant Sounds.
Although it may sound like a melting pot of influences from the aforementioned Young, Allen, and Prine to Lou Reed and, at times, John Lennon’s later work, it all combines to form something utterly and uniquely Kurt Vile. “Fo Sho” grooves along on a delightful guitar crunch while “Chazzy Don’t Mind” tips its hat to indie favorites Chastity Belt and features its members Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, and Annie Truscott. Sarah Jones (Hot Chip, Harry Styles) handles drums on both songs.
As Bottle It In did with the Charlie Rich-associated classic, “Rollin’ With the Flow”, (watch my moves) unearths “Wages of Sin”, a Bruce Springsteen outtake from the Born in the USA sessions that didn’t appear officially until The Boss’s 1998 box set, Tracks. Springsteen has been quoted saying he originally shelved the song because he believed it hit a little too close to the bone. Vile’s version, although faithful, exudes a detachment that robs the song of its visceral melancholy. However, taken on its own merits, it’s one of the most powerful moments on (watch my moves).
At 15 songs (including two instrumentals), (watch my moves) may overstay its welcome, but its best moments entrance and enthrall, proving that Kurt Vile takes his time to set a mood and a groove and invites us in for a hang we can’t resist.