Despite the brawn and growl on display for Kurt Vile’s debut via Matador (actually his third proper), ‘Childish Prodigy’ hadn’t quite prepared us for such a velveteen sound that comes from his latest. The title, ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, could easily act as a style guide for the eleven tracks herein, the musings of a moseying stoner, circling his head cloud-like in waves of heavily pitched acoustic strings, gathering impressions of the world through oak-aged vocals and plenty of hollowing, deep reverb.
At times Vile’s vocal saunters into a tune as though he’s Lou Reed having an extremely nasal episode - like on ‘Puppet To The Man’, where he rocks out reverb guitar like the Stones but cutting a much more psychedelic tone. There is a latent headiness to be found in the density of the song structures, where Vile teeters his voice somewhere in the middle of the melodies and steers it erratically around them.
Elsewhere there’s more plain sailing; an indescribable weariness that tends to haunt the album, but vaguely conceals the songwriting potency underneath it, that when you notice it feels like the line has emerged from a fog. This is the case in the imprecision of ‘On Tour’, whose struck bass notes plum at sloppiness to rival the correctness of the melodic guitar and assertive lines, like “watch out for this one, he’ll pump you full of lead for turning your head wrong”.
The shake of percussion on ‘Runner Ups’, much like those occasional lyric delights, creeps out of the other instrumentation of country-meets-blues guitar and stabilises his otherwise leering and imperfect vocal.
Conversely Vile offers the more playful finger picking of ‘Jesus Fever’ and ‘Peeping Tomboy’, the latter growing toward its split verse/chorus structure that feels more like a bridge. The return of the acoustic riff acting to stabilise the track and divert the pace once more. And ‘Baby’s Arms’ has just about the bitterest romantic lyricism to it – “I get sick of just about everyone and I hide in my baby’s arms” – which paints Vile as the alpha male, revealing a vulnerable side to his style born of hedonism. Whereas for the album’s title track he is at once ‘angel, human, demon’, cushioned by a bed of lightly sustained piano and rolling acoustic chord changes.
That’s not to say all the density and peek-a-boo highlights make this a difficult album. Far from it. The roll and shuffle of the tracks allows ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ to wash over you like a desert breeze and stick it on repeat to get yourself fully immersed.
Kurt Vile - (watch my moves)
Unquestionably one of Kurt’s easier-going records.
His new album, ‘(watch my moves)’, is out next month.
It’s released in April.
The biggest and best tracks of the past week, rounded up and reviewed.