Smoke Ring For My HaloAlbum | Kurt Vile By Stewart Mason
Philadelphia singer-songwriter breaks out of the underground.
Muddy and lo-fi, Kurt Vile's first two albums Constant Hitmaker and God Is Saying This To You sounded like solo bedroom recordings even when Vile was in a studio with a proper band, filled with knotty little songs that draped straightforward singer-songwriter roots in elliptical lyrics and layers of four-track hiss. Even his higher-profile Matador Records debut, 2009's Childish Prodigy, was pieced together from a grab-bag of studio and home recordings. Smoke Ring For My Halo is both Vile's first album recorded as an album and his first using an outside producer (John Agnello, best known for his work with Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth), and the upgrade in both musical focus and overall sound quality makes an enormous difference. Lacking the extended fuzz-guitar squalls that punctuated his earlier releases, these 10 songs maintain a melancholy late-night mood akin to the Velvet Underground's more reflective moments, cutting down a bit on the noise to showcase Vile's surprisingly solid acoustic fingerpicking while adding richer sonic touches like harp and a variety of vintage synthesizers. Lyrically, Vile has a deadpan wit ("Christ was born, I was there/You know me, I'm around") that lacerates his occasional tendencies toward mopeiness, and musically, his oft-stated fondness for songwriters who share his blue-collar Rust Belt background (Springsteen, Seger) finally starts to come into focus on songs as emotionally direct and tuneful as "In My Time." After a few years as a hipster secret, Kurt Vile is ready for the spotlight.
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