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March 12, 2011  | by: Kerri O'Malley

Kurt Vile Live in Brooklyn

Kurt Vile’s fourth album, Smoke Ring for My Halo, was finally released this week, and it’s as heaven-sent and eerily ethereal as its title suggests.  The mellow rocker from Philly describes the album as “an epic folk record with rock and psychedelic undertones — mainly just a wandering folk record.”  Arguably Kurt Vile‘s most cohesive album, Smoke Ring is a moody masterpiece: forty-eight minutes of traveling thought, apathy, half-spent conviction, and beautiful hallucinations.

Pitchfork‘s David Bevan reviewed the album, noting that “to listen to Kurt Vile is to hear him in conversation with himself: That can be said of his ultra-wry lyrical observations just as much as the elliptical, brick-by-brick architecture of his songwriting.”

Kurt Vile: A True Rock Prodigy

Vile’s lyrics have formerly been somewhat obscured by fuzz, but they break through much clearer on his latest album, and the clarity doesn’t expose what could have been purposefully covered shortcomings.  Instead, Vile’s lifted the veil off of his melancholy melodies, revealing not just the sinking daily ponderings of an introspective soul, but also a good bit of humor and a shake-it-off-anyway attitude.

Joking with himself, taking back his own words, driving forward with insistent harmonies and an ever-present ability to take a step back and sigh, Smoke Ring is both calming and intriguing, depressing and exultant.  It is like a conversation Vile is having with himself, but being a fly on the wall of Kurt Vile’s mind is an enviable experience.  Maybe that’s why they call him Lord of the Flies.

The album begins with a simple love song, but kicks into gear with the driving rhythm of “Jesus Fever,” a song vibrating with sunshine and upbeat energy that Vile caps off with lyrics of impending nostalgia.  Perfect for driving around to on a day when the sun’s just peeping through the clouds.  This number segues into one of my favorites from the album, a song both sarcastic and hard-hitting, and one of Vile’s most gut-punching rhythms to date: “Puppet to the Man.”

Although I only bought the album a few days ago, it’s been on constant (hitmaker) repeat in both my car and my mind.  “Peeping Tomboy” and “Society is My Friend” are two other favorites of mine.  “Peeping Tomboy” is Kurt Vile in top lazy-Sunday form.  I can’t help but smile knowingly as Vile sings “I don’t wanna go to work but I don’t want sit around/all day frooooowwwwwning.”   Kurt perfectly encapsulates the discomfort of the in-between.  In “Society is My Friend,” Kurt’s sarcasm and wordplay shine through an otherwise dark tune.

Other great tracks include “On Tour,” “In My Time,” and of course the final track (before Kurt’s signature instrumental play-out), “Ghost Town.”  The record finishes with Vile’s last line: “…Then again I guess it ain’t always that way,” a poignant turn of phrase that opens the song, and the record, to wild interpretation by any listener.  Having entranced us with his thoughts, Kurt now leaves us with our own.  Contemplative, cool, and heartfelt, Smoke Ring for My Halo already makes the Best of 2011 list in my eyes.

Vile just finished a round of record store appearances, reveling in both the intimate nature of his music and his love of old-school vinyl.  Lucky Kurt even played a store in Brooklyn with his dedicated fan and key member of the seminal 90s rock band Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore.  Check out Kurt Vile and his traveling band, The Violators, as his tour with Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis continues.

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