Release Date: Mar 8, 2011
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Philly's Kurt Vile can sound like Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp or Lou Reed — if those standard-bearers were murmuring through a speakerphone after a few salvia bongs. On Vile's fourth LP, the stoner haze lifts a bit, and he settles on a mood: chilled-out but guarded, and wrapped in gorgeous folk-blues guitar-picking. The vibe is warmly psychedelic, but reality is banging at the door.
Reviewing a widely acclaimed record several weeks after its release always presents its own unique challenge. As I sit down to write this critique on Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, I find myself wondering how can I say something new about an album that has already been discussed to death, especially when I wholeheartedly agree with the general consensus. Then I remember: it wasn’t always this way.
In just a short while, Kurt Vile’s music has been traced back to a gaggle of influences, including Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr., Tom Petty and Ariel Pink. While those comparisons can tread water, the sum doesn’t serve the drowsy essence that Vile casually conjures on his fourth album. That is to say: Here is a wonderfully original record. The artist himself probably puts it best when he drawls, “It’s just me/Bein’ me/Bein’ free” (“On Tour”).
"On tour, Lord of the Flies. Aw, hey, who cares? What's a guuuii-taaaaar?" So begins the sharply titled "On Tour", a spacious, diary-like explosion nestled just a few minutes into Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt Vile's fourth and finest full-length to date. Strings buzz, strummed patterns double back on themselves and from up above it all, the Philadelphia-native showers everything with cosmic, harp-like harmonics.
Kurt Vile’s name is a masterpiece of reductive classification, evoking all kinds of gritty rock n’ roll signifiers, from trashed hotel rooms to sneering punk attitude. He sounds like he could have been the bassist from the Germs, punning on Kurt Weill’s name while summing up the faint suggestion of danger that clings to his own music like the smell of cigarette smoke. That it’s his actual name hardly seems to matter, except as another reflection of how effortless his music and persona appear.
Kurt Vile. I mean, first things first, he’s got a cracking name. You know where you stand with a Kurt Vile; once you hear those words, you’re prepared to face the man lurking at the heart of this record - a man who had it all laid out, destined to be the grisly antithesis of Brylcreemed accountants and Sound of 2011 nominees from the day he spurted out of a Vile mother’s womb.
Philly-based singer/songwriter Kurt Vile lit up the indie rock radar in 2009 with his cynical, lo-fi, classic rock-meets-N.Y.C. proto-punk Matador debut. Fans of the visceral, D.I.Y. fuzz-folk that dominated Childish Prodigy may be taken aback by the production upgrade on Smoke Ring for My Halo, but the cleaner sound doesn’t mean that the floors aren’t still filthy.
[a]Kurt Vile[/a] is the kind of guy who lugs about his talent like an unwanted piece of luggage. The Philadelphian songwriter’s second album for Matador is a thing of strange and reluctant beauty, leaning more heavily than before on his folk-tinged acoustic wanderings but suffused with the same vague dissatisfaction. On [b]‘Puppet To The Man’[/b] he does street-tuff words to the wise like [a]Lou Reed[/a] (“[i]This one goes out to all the ones who want the right to SURVIVE[/i]”), but in the main this unspools like a lonesome ode to God’s country in the manner of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas – [b]‘In My Time’[/b] comes on like the monochrome ghost of [a]Big Star[/a], while [b]‘Society Is My Friend’[/b] is the sound of a true maverick unafraid of taking the untrodden path.
I dunno about you, but when I hear about a garage band that kills it live; that’s single-handedly reviving the pure punk spirit of a bygone era gilded in sepia and blood; whose mustachioed derelict singer lubricates the floor with a never-ending stream of bodily fluids; whose only instruments are a guitar and drum kit routinely set ablaze by said mustachioed derelict singer; AND who’ve been banned from playing most of their local clubs, I gotta wonder: “Are these guys from Israel?” Because seriously, that shit’s been done to death in America. Call me a relic or what you will, but the notion of getting drenched in someone else’s sweat while helping a shirtless 40-something rocker crowd-surf is a tad less appealing than the prospect of being stricken insensate by the Signature Cocktails of some obnoxious casual dining chain. For one thing, those casual dining places have to clean their bathroom floors every hour, a nicety likely overlooked at the dives frequented by Monotonix, the killer Israeli garage band in question.
Kurt Vile has made a cottage industry out of his warped folk-rock, releasing a treasure trove of full-lengths, EPs, singles, 7-inches, and cassettes over the past three years. They’re all a varying degree of quality -- the Philly songwriter hasn’t met a song fragment he doesn’t want to put to tape -- but his music is united by his two strongest suits: his expert guitar-playing and his singular voice. Smoke Ring For My Halo is Vile’s fourth record to date and his strongest yet.
Kurt Vile is in the doldrums. Smoke Ring For My Halo, the Philadelphia songwriter’s latest, is a weird animal — stubbornly impassive but vaguely miserable, languid, and oppressive as a late-summer scorcher. It’s a stark departure from 2009’s Childish Prodigy. That album was a brilliant, bleary melange of psyched-up Americana wherein new backing band The Violators provided some serious punch for Vile’s stoned folk jams; the singer’s newfound rock swagger proved an invigorating backbone to his sardonic, disjointed anti-narratives.
A personal, private fourth LP from the Philadelphia native and select pals. Noel Gardner 2011 The last few years have seen a certain upheaval in underground rock music, where artists releasing highly limited runs of what would appear to be obscure and obstinate records are not entirely cut off from the overground. It’s a phenomenon typified by acts as varied as Animal Collective, F***ed Up and Best Coast, and has been helped along by entities such as the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival and the Matador label.
Just freshly a year or so removed off his 2009 standout album, Childish Prodigy, Kurt Vile returns with a new set of music on Smoke Ring for My Halo. As one of the newly found rock artists of the year, Vile was able to wonderfully convey why a move to Matador was seemingly, the right decision. His second album for the label, Vile presents a strong showing of embracing songwriting and an incredible ear for melody.
With last year's Square Shells EP, Kurt Vile raised already high expectations for his follow-up to 2009's Childish Prodigy, and the lo-fi Philadelphia songwriter's fourth album continues apace. Vile refuses to sit in a single sonic mold, but Smoke Ring is more striking for its permeating sense of lingering. The album doesn't rush, and songs pop in their perfected grainy intricacies.