Following the dusky wandering of 2015's B'lieve I'm Goin Down... and the sometimes cloying 2017 Courtney Barnett collaboration Lotta Sea Lice, restless workingman Kurt Vile looked to his time in transit for his seventh album, Bottle It In. The songs here were recorded over the course of two years in various studios and locations across the U.S., and Vile assembled them between tours and road-trip vacations with his family. That sense of motion touches much of Bottle It In, an album that sees Vile extending his sonic vocabulary with more complex arrangements and drawn-out songs that wash by like changing scenery viewed from the passenger seat. By this point, Vile has settled into the finer points of his persona, that of the stony but observant psychic drifter, grinning through his disarming rock repetitions with equal parts humor, bite, and guitar solos. He wears all of it confidently on the songs where he can explore, notably the almost ten-minute two-chord ramble of "Bassackwards." The song stealthily accumulates layers of synths, piano, and guitar textures as Vile strolls in a disoriented lyrical fog, evoking images of beaches, time passing, and stilted attempts at communicating. That the several songs stretching past the ten-minute mark can stay engaging and even exciting at such lengths is a testament to how comfortable the songwriter has grown in his craft. At almost 11 minutes, the title track is another unlikely standout, a dusty old-timey loop building patiently into an epic journey that includes Mary Lattimore's plaintive harp and Cass McCombs providing harmonies to Vile's yo-yoing vocal melodies and stream-of-consciousness lyrical sprawl. The almost mantra-like tune unfolds into subdued horn arrangements that float along with dreamy guitar lines. The song takes a while to get where it's going, but all is revealed in time. If anything, the filler on Bottle It In happens in the more compact numbers. At well over an hour running time, shorter tunes like the breezy AM radio-modeled "Rollin with the Flow" and the upbeat rocker "Yeah Bones" feel formulaic and out of place next to more experimentally structured fare. If the flow of the album can sometimes feel longwinded, the fluid approach to instrumentation means there's always a new detail around the corner for those paying attention. Bass synths growl playfully on "Check Baby," a film of melodic feedback coats the ending of "Mutinies," and a chorus of drunken friends comes from out of nowhere to help sing the good-natured lovefest of "One Trick Ponies." While sometimes disjointed or lingering, Bottle It In finds Vile's production at its most colorful and curious. Making the most of the various environments where it was recorded, the album feels like a travel diary picked up sporadically along the way. Some entries expand on every thought and some are left half-finished, but these contrasting moods reflect the peaks and valleys of Vile's journey, both literal and metaphorical, in getting to this chapter of his music.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas