What’s that saying? “Life is full of regrets, so eat your chocolates now?” (Close enough.) Well, my latest regret is not buying tons of stock in Kurt Vile. For three years, I’ve known about – and heard constant praise of – Philadelphia’s psych-folk rising star, yet I’ve skipped a half dozen of his shows and mostly overlooked Constant Hitmaker and Childish Prodigy as too lo-fi and folky for my tastes. I liked him, but rarely gave each album repeat listens. (The lo-fi gave me an auditory motion sickness. I swear!) That changed in a hurry. After a few listens to Smoke Ring for My Halo, I’m hooked.
By now, you’re probably already read glowing reviews of the record. They’re right. Smoke Ring for My Halo is an exceptional LP that will inevitably end up on many end-of-year lists. The record is less fuzzy, less experimental, and less distant than previous releases, but Vile hasn’t changed his trademark sound. Instead, he’s continued to refine his craft with layers of guitars that sound harp-like in their beauty yet comforting while swishy (“Runner Ups”). The lyrics are potent in their dark nature (“Society Is My Friend”), humor (“Puppet to the Man”), and intimacy (“On Tour”). On the latter, Vile croons, “My best friend’s long gone, but I’ve got runner ups,” and the listener can sense a broken man in a desolate place.
There aren’t many Violators-style rockers but “Jesus Fever” and “In My Time,” a Petty-style mid-tempo track, might be the most commercially accessible work Vile has done. There isn’t a bonafide hit here, but every song is strong and memorable. And this time around, I’m sure that repeat listens are definitely in order.
It’s tough to describe Vile’s folk rock for newcomers. Remember when you were a kid and on a dare you threw whatever you could find in the kitchen into a blender? It wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be, and you were $5 richer. Vile is a shockingly tasty concoction of classic rock, psychedelic folk, Dylan, Petty, Sea Change-era Beck, J Mascis, and even Kim Gordon (for real, some of those vocal patterns are reminiscent). He strikes a perfect balance of repetitive and progressive, lazy-bored vocals and raw emotion, off-beat and right on time. Smoke Ring for My Halo captures an artist hitting his stride. This is one shake you’ll want to drink up; believe me, you won’t regret it.
Smoke Ring for My Halo is available now on Matador Records.