Back in March, the barricading haze of Kurt Vile’s previous three LPs - 2008’s ‘Constant Hitmaker’, and 2009’s ‘Childish Prodigy’ and ‘God Is Saying This To You’ - finally cleared way for the lucid (though ironically titled) ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, Vile’s fourth full-length record and one of the greatest albums of 2011 (thus far).
With ‘Smoke Ring’, Vile managed to shape his previously introspective and relatively distancing sound into one with crevices into which we could all crawl and coalesce. Still, this is not to say Vile completely abandoned his idiosyncratic, ‘conversation with myself’ ambiance. ‘Smoke Ring’ most certainly continued the trademark, inner-mediation of previous LPs, yet his metamorphosis into a new sonic ‘openness’ (think a tightening and brightening of jams, a production polish, and a general honing of that lovely, quirk take on heartland rock) meant that a whole new wave of fans could finally listen in on Vile’s inner-workings without fear of encroaching. This time, we were beckoned in with both hands.
Next month, Vile will follow up his critic list-topping album with a new extended play, ‘So Outta Reach’. My intial delight at receiving this novel Vile package was replaced by a cynicism upon learning the EP’s five original tracks (there is also a rad cover of Springsteen’s ‘Downbound Train’ here) are reworks of songs recorded during the sessions for ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, but ultimately cut from the album. I was made ever more dubious after reading the EP was coming out on the same day as a “deluxe 2-cd” re-release of ‘Smoke Ring’. So of course what did follow was that unavoidable, sceptical mull over - was this EP here a mere marketing ploy on Matador Records’ part, or Vile’s chance to air some genuinely worthy jams?
Well, depending on where you stand with Vile, it can be seen from both angles. While the vivid guitar twines and intimate rambles (‘She said I’m a creature of habit, oh she’s so cute with her glance…’) of opener ‘The Creature’ may sound like ‘Smoke Ring’’s long-lost secret track (in fact, one does wonder why on earth Vile decided to leave such a splendour off said LP), do not think this EP rocks consistently tight ‘Halo’-era material.
While Vile’s previous record was marked by a significant straightening of back, the music here seems to hobble off in the opposite direction, since the entire ‘So Outta Reach’ exudes with a tremendously fluid and positively directionless vibe (the cover art depicts Kurt Vile lazing in a number of sedentary, closed-eye positions. Really, this could not be more of a pertinent image to envelope the chill EP).
From the everlasting psychedelic river of guitar which flows through ethereal highlight ‘Laughing Stock’, to the breezy and unhurried ‘Life’s A Beach’ and its (admittedly more deflated) re-imagination, EP closer, ‘(so outta reach)‘, the tracks Vile delivers here are overtly loose and particularly keen on getting ‘lost in the moment’ - an observation perhaps confirmed by the latter two tracks’ persisting lyric, “I’m so outta reach, cos life’s a beach…”.
These hazy qualities will undoubtedly appeal to early Vile champions, but perhaps trouble those more accustomed to Philly’s more-recent and more-sharpened material - particularly when it comes to heavyweight tracks such ‘It’s Alright’, when a remote Vile finally risks getting trampled by a swampy, unrelenting guitar drone.
Still, as an age-old Vile fan, this somewhat ‘return’ (and I use ‘return’ lightly, since I do not want to imply a ‘stepping back’) to an open freeway of sound which twists and curls beyond the refined container of ‘Smoke Ring’, makes this EP a cathartic and, at times, incredibly spellbinding listen.
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.