record review: Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

Everybody is always shouting. Crying their hearts out, bellowing instruction, screaming down the telephone. Be it about someone, something, no-one or nothing. Everybody is always shouting.

Sporting a back record entitled Constant Hitmaker, you would not be condemned for guessing that Kurt Vile may be a man who likes to shout. His classic rock roots remain on show, his hair is long and his name is iconic in its 8 letter brevity- surely he must play a red Strat and bring stadiums to their knees with 3 power chords and fuck loads of distortion? Listening to Smoke Ring For My Halo you would be hard pressed to not call your stereotyping acumen into question, as Vile once again defies genre with another gloriously innovative release.

Unexpected by some, the record’s announcer ‘Baby’s Arms’ dances in amid considerable space, with Banhart reminiscent lyrics hitting harder than their quiet mix would suggest. Panned, arpeggiated guitar licks swim above an ominous threat, drones mindful and breathing beneath apparent serenity. Comfortingly, miss hit notes are not pro-tooled out, instead enhanced along with reverbed tamborine, adding dimension to the spacious timbres. Vile made his reputation through demos, sampled from a 4 track tape recorder- perhaps these production oversights are homage being payed back to his lo-fidelity roots.

In many ways, Vile is an exponent of  classic rock- the chord walk up and down, string bending and accentuated cymbal fills on 3rd track ‘Puppet To The Man’ pointing in all directions toward King Crimson via Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers. Similarly to the aforementioned, the Philly born guitarist knows when to envelop more instruments into the haze, and also when to dial things back, as in the somnambulistic drawl of Peeping Tomboy, where central vocals croon rock’s misguided mantra  ‘I been searching, I don’t know what for’. The archaically titled ‘Violators’ that provide Vile’s backing do not molest the mix as their name may imply- in fact their sporadic inclusions are tenderly applied by a mind clearly developed from the releases of Childish Prodigy and God Is Saying This To You…. The indistinct murmurs, that perpetuated those collections remain in the new record’s sonic bunkers, settling like heavy gas between airy layering. However, in the main Vile’s more intelligible diction only serves to build upon the promise displayed by his early career material. Where incoherant whispers were once left in their simplest forms, themes and stories are now woven; personal lyrics behaving as thought processes, manifest behind the music. Vocalisation of his internal turmoil may detract from Vile’s experimental character, yet it is the imperative factor in making Smoke Ring For My Halo a more accessible record.

Any sympathisers with the classical philosophies of rock with identify with the sentiments of ‘Society Is My Friend’ – ‘When im walking my head is practicallydragging, all i see is just a whole load of dirt’. Where many may clamourously exclaim these ideologies, Vile keeps his composure and therefore retains the conviction that most forget is necessary. Smoke Ring For My Halo– definitely a record worth shouting about.



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