March 17, 2011

Test Spins: Kurt Vile

Print More

With a name so unabashedly punk rock, one would expect Philadelphian singer and guitarist Kurt Vile to be the bastard reincarnation of Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious, in all their controversy laden, hotel-trashing glory. Punk rock demigod Vile is not, but thankfully so. On Smoke Ring For My Halo, Vile has produced a toned down and beautifully constructed fourth album, with the occasional snarl to make Rotten proud.

Emerging on the scene in 2008 with the derisively titled Constant Hitmaker, Vile’s first major release was his 2009 breakthrough Childish Prodigy under the skillful mentorship of Matador Records. Although Childish Prodigy was a success in its own right, Smoke Ring For My Halo aptly displays Vile’s maturation from a more primitive approach; moving towards a cleaner, clearer and cohesive sound that augments Vile’s subtle, rambling wordplay and gorgeous guitar melodies.

It is refreshing to hear someone who isn’t afraid to play the guitar and to play it well. Vile is beyond the over the top solos and cliché power chords too heavily relied on by artists today, instead showcasing his guitar work in a way that seems reminiscent of eras past. On the opening track “Baby’s Arms,” Vile relies on lo-fi pedal loops and delicate strumming to create a foggy ambience that envelops the listener.

It often seems as if Vile is allowing us to listen in on a conversation he is having with himself, lending a personal, intimate air to the album. Lyrics are intermittently peppered with interjections, as if Vile is forming his thoughts on the fly. On “Ghost Town,” Vile’s casual dejection can be heard when he says, “In the morning I’m not sleeping, in the evening I guess I’m alive.” Vile’s introspection succeeds thanks to his no frills approach; his melancholy commentary would otherwise be weighted down if he employed more cumbersome prose.

During the opening moments of the dreamy “On Tour”, Vile sings, “Hey kids, what’s a guitar?” in a drawn-out, hazy drawl. Thanks to the wistful melodies and unassuming yet masterful chords of Smoke Ring For My Halo, it is obvious that Vile needs no assistance in answering that query.


Original Author: Sarah Angell