Release Date: Oct 6, 2009
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Singer-Songwriter
Don't judge a book by its cover. Kurt Vile's long-haired hippie appearance may suggest West Coast roots -- even though he's actually a Philadelphian -- but his sound comes straight out of the underbelly of the Big Apple. With a slack-singing style reminiscent of Lou Reed or Alan Vega, and his vocals doused in slap-back reverb, the songs on Childish Prodigy shift between gritty numbers driven by guitar fuzz and steady ballads backed by one-key baritone drones.
Who is Kurt Vile? There are no easy answers on Childish Prodigy, his first album for Matador, and his third full-length solo release in a little over a year (in addition to his role as guitarist in The War On Drugs). At times Vile’s constant need to dream up new versions of himself makes him seem like an indie-rock Walter Mitty. Anyone looking for his modus operandi won’t find it here, and it’s unlikely that he has one — rather than assimilate a set of influences into an overall sound, he prefers to lurch from one style to another over a set of songs, presumably crossing off genres on a beer stained notepad as he goes along.
Philadelphia's Kurt Vile has the kind of murky recording history that could turn off a casual observer. Over the past two years, Vile has released three solo albums, a steady stream of 7-inch singles, and an EP with his band the Violators, and he's punching the clock as the lead guitarist for the War on Drugs. To make matters more daunting, his sound and mood shift drastically from release to release (and sometimes from song to song), making him a veritable musical Zelig: There's Kurt Vile the hazy, bedroom pop auteur; Kurt Vile donning a Tom Petty disguise; Kurt Vile trying out his avant-garde soundscape hat.
Philadelphia singer/songwriter (and owner of one of the best rock names around) Kurt Vile is part of a group of newcomers to Matador, an intriguing freshman class that also includes spooky synth-poppers Cold Cave and sunny new romantics Girls. But Vile differs significantly in style from these other acts, with a sound that draws heavily on the road-weary classic rock and folk of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and even Tom Petty, but is constructed with the lo-fi bedroom-recording techniques of someone like Ariel Pink. His two albums released in the last year (Constant Hitmaker and God Is Saying This to You) felt comfortable and well-worn like an old pair of jeans and produced a summer jam last season with the very catchy "Freeway".
[b]Kurt Vile[/b]: the two words conjure images of some hackneyed prick from Hackney Wick rolling around the floor of Barden’s Boudoir carefully cutting his bare torso with razor blades while three bird’s nest-haired morons spaz out behind. Thankfully, though, the arrival of [b]‘Childish Prodigy’[/b] means these words will now evoke beautiful lo-fi songsmanship: gravelly [a]Eels[/a]-esque crunch rock ([b]‘Hunchback’[/b]), harmonica-heavy gospel majesty (the [a]Spiritualized[/a]-floating-on-the-Mississippi [b]‘Inside Lookin’ Out’[/b]), fuzz-mired blues and even hypnotic kraut. Vile (real name) takes his semantic trickery further this autumn with his backing band [b]The Violators[/b] in tow.
Underground critic’s darlings have a way of becoming annoying by no fault of their own. Without release strategies or recording/touring cycles, word of mouth keeps a steady stream of attention flowing toward an artist as new folks discover the artist at their own pace. Eventually, overkill can start setting in, especially with a lack of new material.