Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador Records) 07/03/2011

March 10, 2011 by  

Falling somewhere between dark folk and summery psychedelia, this record of contrasts proves Kurt Vile is rapidly growing into a songwriting force to take note of.

His second release on Matador Records, this is an album likely to divide audiences along the basis of those who love the pared down Vile and those who just wish he’d amp it up and give the Violators more volume and presence.

Vile takes his home-recording aesthetic and contorts it into a studio environment, without losing the woozy warmth that naturally comes with his solo acoustic guitar playing. Let’s be honest here: in terms of his vocal style, fans of the Velvet Underground will be pleased. That lazy, low tone cuts across just the right amount on stand-out tracks Baby’s Arms, Peeping Tomboy, and Runner Ups. At its poppier points Smoke Ring For My Halo falls slightly short, trapped by four-chord intros with predictable progressions. It’s at these moments that the importance of Vile’s lyrics really shows itself: without them, his hesitant foray into the world of major chords sounds nearly contrived.

Where perhaps Vile drowns himself in melancholic reflection, the sonic textures created by the Violators and other musical guests on the album lift it from a pool of woeful self-pity. These aren’t songs of celebration or jubilation, but for the most part the record still hangs together well. Trembling guitar lines float over driving drum beats as Vile sings of bitter romanticism and society ‘drinking from a dirty cup’. He’s not exactly jumping for joy here, but the maturity behind this record stops his voice ever turning from a rumble into a whine.

Whether singing about lust, loss or his own insecurities and shortcomings Vile still crafts a beautiful LP. Smoke Ring for My Halo pulses with a clarity that rips through its own dirge, and places Vile firmly on the map as a songwriting talent to watch.