EP Review: Kurt Vile – Back to Moon Beach

3.5/5

Kurt Vile moves to the beat of his own drum. Some far off shore in space is the only setting where his walking meditation makes sense. His most recent release, Back to Moon Beach, comes hot on the heels of last year’s album, (watch my moves). And it picks up right where he left off.

With nine songs clocking in at just under an hour in length, Back to Moon Beach would constitute a full-length album for almost any other artist. But not for Kurt Vile. Consisting of a smattering of new tracks and a few familiar covers, the EP is a punctuation mark in the indie artist’s current era as a musician, one that finds him trading the uptempo beats and catchy indie hooks that were prevalent early in his career for pensive refrains and long-form psychedelic grooves that you can easily lose yourself in.

Back to Moon Beach sees Vile awash in melancholy. He walks leisurely along the shores of his self-created moon beach setting, losing himself in meditation as he balances measured despondency with carefully cheerful optimism.

Opening with this year’s earliest single release, “Another good year for the roses,” Vile buoys the EP with brightly arpeggiated piano and a lackadaisical positivity. Then he offers up the yin to the opening track’s yang. Slow and somber, “Touched something (caught a virus)” waltzes gently through introspective melancholy. Then, it makes way for the EP’s title track. More than eight minutes in length, the downtempo tune takes its time painting a portrait of the beach on the moon where Vile imagines the fruition of his own music-filled existence.

A breath of levity comes midway through the track list with “Like a wounded bird trying to fly.” Crediting the song name to his own daughter, this track feels more personal than the rest of the album. Walking through his own family history, Vile gets comfortable as he contemplates his own contributions to his namesake’s legacy. Walking a fine line between celebration and despair, he chooses to place emphasis on the positives. But he posits himself an unreliable narrator, questioning his own recollection, “was it real or just a dream.”

The EP reaches its zenith with “Tom Petty’s gone (but tell him I asked for him),” an ode to the greats of a newly bygone era who Vile has modeled much of his own sound after. Grappling with a changing of the guard that sees his idols pass from iconic status to relics of past FM radio airwaves, Vile laments lost opportunity as he croons in the opening verse, “Tom Petty’s gone … and I’m long gone … /How am I gonna make amends/with myself for never gettin to talk to him?”

As if to memorialize his own idols, Vile moves toward the end of the EP with two covers. First, a bright and cheery revisit of Bob Dylan’s “Must be Santa,”  a track that features vocal support from Vile’s daughters. The holiday tune is immediately followed by his rendition of Wilco’s “Passenger side” before wrapping up with a new rendition of yet another fan favorite, “Cool water.”

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