Monday, February 28, 2011

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo

There is always room for false starts, and Kurt Vile's Matador debut Childish Prodigy was unquestionably that. While it certainly wasn't a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, it didn't hold a candle to 2009's brilliant ...And God Is Saying This To You. It lacked much of the depth of that record, and failed to capture the gentle darkness that so perfectly balances Vile's more rock and roll tendencies. In the time between, Vile delivered The Hunchback EP, which seemed to be more in the right direction, and left us with a gut feeling that that Childish Prodigy was nowhere near the end of the road for the Philadelphia songwriter. Thankfully, we were very, very right.

On Saturday night, as we sat in Black Rabbit, we heard Vile's distinctive voice trickle over the airwaves, and were baffled: not only was it new material, but it was totally amazing. On par with his older material, if not better. We were hastily informed that Smoke Ring For My Halo had made its way onto the internets, and was available for the taking. Excited? Yes indeed.

Sunday morning we bit into the new record, and realized that this is what we had been hoping for from Vile for the past two years: It is a record that recognizes the singer's heavy vibe, but still engages with pop sensibility. It fluctuates between pure rock and roll, and spacey acoustic explorations. At moments you feel like you're listening to a friend play his latest song at the end of a long night, at others like you're in a stadium packed to the gills with adoring fans. It is a record that explores all the nooks and crannies of the rock and roll existence, and it does so masterfully.

"Jesus Fever" is the record's first single, and for obvious reasons: it's accessible, poppy, and absolutely masterful in its construction. In that, it's hardly alone. "Runner Ups" continues Vile's tradition of lyrical callbacks to his own earlier work, while "Peeping Tomboy" lends itself to his more folky inclinations. "In My Time" and "Baby's Arms" manage to occupy a middle ground of gently chugging rock music that is completely at home in its own skin.

In short, Kurt Vile has managed to deliver a record that we didn't expect, but certainly wished for. On Smoke Ring For My Halo he explores the full breadth of his talents, and does so in a way that creates a brilliant montage of his sound. The record is one that you repeat as soon as it finishes, and you wake up wanting to hear again. It is the true heir to Vile's earlier work. It is the very best thing we've heard in quite a while.

Lucky for you: NPR decided to start streaming Smoke Ring For My Halo in its entirety this morning. Check the link below to have your world summarily rocked, starting now.

Kurt Vile is touring with J. Mascis this spring, Smoke Ring For My Halo drops March 8th on Matador.