‘Back to Moon Beach’ offers insightful introspection

Kurt Vile’s latest release is as soul-searching as it is gorgeous.
Arts & Culture

Back to Moon Beach

Kurt Vile (Verve Forecast, 2023)

If you’re not listening to Kurt Vile’s latest release, the EP Back to Moon Beach, on repeat, you need to rectify that immediately. The Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter who first came to prominence as cofounder of the rock band The War on Drugs has really come into his own as a soloist.

Vile recorded most of this material in 2019 alongside multi-instrumentalist Rob Laakso, who died in 2023. There is not much to nitpick here, unless it’s to say that a 52-minute-long “EP” is really an album. But honestly, who cares? “Another Good Year” is almost six minutes long but doesn’t drag. You don’t want it to end, though when it does, it does so steadily and gradually like a car gently pulling away from the curb. It’s all catchy grooves and Vile’s slow, talking style of vocals, which seem to reflect the running monologue of his brain: “These days I, man, these days I do whatever I want / Tunе out the rest / ’Til something wakеs me from a rest.”

But Vile doing whatever he wants isn’t the overall theme of the EP. He gets trippy, too, as on the title track “Back to Moon Beach”—eight minutes of him blissing out about a beach on the moon. It’s followed by “Like a Wounded Bird Trying to Fly,” where he channels Neil Young as an introspective storyteller whose tales are as vivid as photographs: “Like a wounded bird trying to fly / Surrounded by green fern, still a cozy and scenic place to die.”

In a similar twangy way on “Tom Petty’s Gone,” Vile sings of “coming apart at the seams” about a few music legends gone or just out of reach. It’s all the more gutting considering the recent loss of Vile’s collaborator, Laakso. Picture yourself in the smoothest riding car you can think of, the cruise control on, humming along. This is the trip on which Vile takes listeners in these 52 gorgeous minutes. Savor them.


This article also appears in the March 2024 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 89, No. 3, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Bill Ebbesen (CC BY-SA 3.0)