Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Mini Review: Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

Kurt Vile is of a dying breed. A wholly American, one-man acoustic songsmith with more than an ounce of originality, whose voice and lyrical flair capture both the drawl and compulsive narration of Dylan and the idle crypticism of Stephen Malkmus. Vile doesn’t easily fit under any label any longer; like Iron & Wine the lo-fi label has been shed for his fourth album Smoke Ring for My Halo: not really bluesy or Americanan  (although there are elements of both at times, see "Puppet to the Man"), rather Vile’s uniqueness features in the background details of each track. The melancholic "Baby’s Arms" makes for an unconventional opener, but the subtle electronics work to create an entrance to the solitary yet familial 11 songs. And it’s clear from the beginning that it’s also an entry into Vile’s mind: the often fragmented acoustic guitar accurately reflects and endorses his words of anagrammatic intelligence, often monologic in nature, as if the listener has unwittingly caught him mumbling to himself; a real solitary figure often creating heartfelt moments through the space. "Society Is My Friend" is so spacious it almost verges into one-man stadium rock territory. Vile shows himself to be an equally capable guitar player as he is a lyricist, be it in the dissonant grooves of "Jesus Fever", or the sweetly arpeggiated "Peeping Tomboy". The album climaxes with the six minute "Ghost Town", alas, not a Specials cover, rather a slow building indie folk number that gets increasingly fuzzy as Vile drifts into his own contemplative memories, sounding very much like Wilco’s "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", yet distinctly Vile. I can see Vile going down well at the festivals (come to the UK please!) during halcyon summer afternoons with a cool beer, a focal point, just a man, a guitar and his universe.

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