Kurt Vile

Smoke Ring For My Halo

BY Cam LindsayPublished Mar 8, 2011

Philly troubadour Kurt Vile jumped ship from his band, War On Drugs, and went solo in 2008, earning a cult following via some wizard-like guitar noodling with debut album Constant Hitmaker. Two more albums of folk-tinged psychedelia followed the next year: the on-par God is Saying This to You (Mexican Summer) and his Matador Records debut, Childish Prodigy, which felt hurried and substandard by comparison. Only releasing the Square Shells EP in 2010, Vile used it as a "stepping stone" between albums, announcing he's moving on to clearer waters. Joined once again by backing band the Violators, Smoke Ring For My Halo introduces Vile in what feels like an HD experience compared to the snowy, black and white recordings of the last few years. Eschewing the gritty production of his first three albums, Vile hides little, magnifying his oft-murmured vocals to reveal that this recognized cynic has a surprising range of emotions: discovering true love in the tender "Baby's Arms" and conveying his usual sardonic stance in "Runner Ups," stating, "If it ain't workin', take a whiz on the world." Vile's serpentine guitar work receives the greatest enhancement, mostly ditching his board of effects pedal in exchange for more lucid melodies. Some might miss the depleted sound of Constant Hitmaker, but Smoke Ring is a breakthrough that proves Vile doesn't need shitty amps to keep writing his blue-collared, PBR-soaked songs.
(Matador Records)

Latest Coverage