Thursday, April 14, 2011

REVIEW: Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

I stumbled on this when it was playing in the record store recently. I couldn't leave the store until the record was done, thinking the entire time that the next song couldn't possibly be as good as the last one, only to be blown away again and again, one by one. By the time I got to the stunning finale "Ghost Town", I was at the Music Millennium counter gladly handing over my $14.

I didn't know anything about Kurt Vile, had never heard any of his prior stuff and honestly can't tell you if it's all this great. But I sure will vouch for Smoke Ring for My Halo.

It is a record that reveals itself with multiple listens, making you work a little for your money. The beautiful finger picking acoustic guitar work is offset by the tough and melancholic singing. Vile's voice grabs you, pulls you in, makes you try your best to really hear him, wondering what he's truly trying to tell us. The lyrics are emotional and nearly conversational without being the slightest bit indulgent.

Here's the opening track "Baby's Arms":

Just when you think you have a handle on this understated trippy folk rock thing he's doing, he comes with the electric guitars on "Puppet to The Man" and adds all this noisy texture.

If you haven't heard him, he's hard to pigeonhole, which is one more thing to like about it. I hear some Brian Jones-era Stones, and even some Brian Jonestown Massacre, but also some really disparate stuff like Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr., Smiths, Low Anthem, Lou Reed and Joseph Arthur, and a whole lot of Kurt Vile. This is a strong and original voice.

I love the production here, shout out to John Agnello. The piano, tambourine, keyboards, percussions, harp, mellotron and various hard to identify sounds just sneak in there, subtle, beneath the guitars and voice. But just right. I'm especially digging the terrific drum sounds, especially on songs "Society Is My Friend" and "Ghost Town".

Here's a good intro to this terrific record by my favorite discovery of 2011, the Philadelphia-based Kurt Vile, with what is probably the most accessible song on the record:

Artist web page:

He's on tour now, so catch him if you can. Attention our loyal readers in Denmark, Mr. Vile will be in Copenhagen on May 12.

Record company link:

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