Features | Awards

The Cold Pizza and "Bishop's Robes"-era Radiohead Award for Best Leftovers

By Matt Main | 17 December 2011

Kurt Vile
So Outta Reach EP
(Matador; 2011)

I have already managed to forget everything about Enough Thunder, James Blake’s recent EP and supposed follow up to the infinitely better self-titled album he released earlier this year. I’m not even sure that it was an EP of album leftovers; I know it had a few uninspired covers which did not work half as convincingly as “Limit To Your Love,” and I vaguely recall a collaboration with Bon Iver. It was…alright? Maybe? I could be misinterpreted as angry that James Blake produced something so disappointing: on the contrary, I reject that record on the grounds of sheer indifference, partly because it’s made up of songs that (rightly) weren’t good enough for a full-length release, but mostly just because I can. Such releases are ten-a-penny; I’ve barely revisited the Weeknd’s Thursday for similar reasons, and short-change an awful lot of deserving rap artists who put out too many releases for me to keep up with. When I do make the effort, though, it’s certainly nice to be surprised once in a while, and So Outta Reach does just that.

Let’s face it: Kurt Vile has the appearance of total indifference mastered, and it looks good on him. The most strained this record sounds is a few muffled cymbal crashes towards the end of “Life’s a Beach,” which drips with just as much irony as you might expect. The message of Kurt Vile’s music is very rarely that life is a beach, unless the beach mentioned is the kind of tourist-friendly litter-filled wasteland that leaves Greenpeace foaming at the mouth. On So Outta Reach, the message hasn’t changed, Vile’s world still very much filled alternately with sorrow and apathy. Absent is the bounciness of an obvious single like “Jesus Fever,” but that in itself is revelatory in terms of what this release is composed of, that being a compilation of reworked efforts from the Smoke Ring for My Halo sessions. The EP by nature lacks the flow of a true album, but that’s alright: this is successful in the way it permits one to gaze, filled with wonder, upon the true gift of songwriting that someone, somewhere has bestowed upon Kurt Vile.

Underneath the unfeeling caverns of reverb, the songs on So Outta Reach often belie Vile’s attempts to distance himself from the associations that come with actually caring about one’s music. The graceful fingerpicking and ear for melody that are by now the signifiers of any Kurt Vile song are ever-present, and delightfully so: the two near-identical takes of “Life’s a Beach” and “(so outta reach)” may boast the most gorgeous melody, but the other efforts are just as compelling. Opener “The Creature” rumbles on effortlessly; its five minutes can seem unending, but blissfully so, despite being comprised solely of slight variations on a single ostinato. In that way, it is reminiscent of Smoke Ring’s opener, “Baby’s Arms,” a track which also winds on unhurriedly to its foregone conclusion by way of intricate plucking and tired, sighing vocal rumination.

He may invoke a set-up that is simple and recognisable (namely: a voice, a guitar, an unchallenging drum beat) but then some artists excel in their taking of a style considered decadent, and then infusing it with a new, inherent relevance. Vile is evidently more than capable of fashioning a worthy product out of the basic materials he has within easy reach, so he does just that, and places the finished article carelessly on his bedroom mantlepiece, joining a day-old glass of water, an ashtray housing smouldering cigarettes, and a bust of Dylan. Here he’s making important music even for releases that many artists use as a buffer between full-lengths: by all means, let it be a lesson to all.