Monday, March 21, 2011

Smoke Ring For My Halo - Kurt Vile

Smoke Ring For My Halo

Kurt Vile
Matador Records.

SCQ Rating: 75%

When word spread last spring that Matador was giving away Square Shells free for the price of an email address, I nearly let the occasion pass me by. His work with The War On Drugs notwithstanding, Vile’s solo output had always seemed entrenched with too much hype for a lone musician with hazy production values. And although I think that same critical praise has been heaped rather unrealistically upon Smoke Ring For My Halo, there's no denying Vile's ability to write sleeper songs that seep into the blogosphere's consciousness. After all, one of Square Shells' songs – ‘I Wanted Everything’ – gradually became an SCQ favourite.

Vile threatens to pull a similar feat on a few cuts here, using the same ramshackle approach – lo-fi strums, indolent lyrics – to foggier effect. So foggy in fact that Vile’s better songs are often sidelined by lyrical pursuits struggling to find direction: he doesn’t want to work but he doesn’t want to sit around (‘Peeping Tomboy’), he wants to sing at the top of his lungs… for fun (‘On Tour’). As assuredly as Vile’s failure to launch any kind of narrative results in a persistently transient vibe, it's hard to ignore how well his stream of consciousness tirades suit the album’s lush laziness.

It’s a vicious circle when Vile’s hypnotic songwriting only flourishes through cringe-worthy lyrical vices but, bellyaching aside, Smoke Ring For My Halo has staying-power. Each song possesses subtle turns – intricate chord changes, otherworldly auxiliary percussion -- that forms familiar bonds with its listener. Repetition plays its part in that heightened acquaintance, with both Vile’s lyrics and strums spiraling into blurry codas by the midway point of ‘Society Is My Friend’ and ‘Jesus Fever’, but that's part of the record's comfort-factor.

Fresh production keeps all of these bed-sick sentiments aglow with a rainy day feel, from the watery disposition of opener ‘Baby’s Arms’ to the electric dissonance lurking behind ‘Ghost Town’. If Smoke Ring For My Halo sounds a bit one-note on paper, it’s gloriously so on the heels of Vile’s production, which can transform a casual listener, susceptible to one or two tracks, into a fan who listens in front-to-back. Hell, it just happened to me. Again.

No comments: