Just freshly a year or so removed off his 2009 standout album, Childish Prodigy, Kurt Vile returns with a new set of music on Smoke Ring for My Halo. As one of the newly found rock artists of the year, Vile was able to wonderfully convey why a move to Matador was seemingly, the right decision. His second album for the label, Vile presents a strong showing of embracing songwriting and an incredible ear for melody. As much as one would assume that times have changed, Vile is able to supplement his strengths with newfound diversity and very simply, delivers a formidable sophomore album.
As you listen to the lead single “Jesus Fever” and through its wave of soothing guitars and percussion touches, you can’t help but notice the subtle sweetness of Vile’s music. The music shines even when the guitars seem to battle within each other and Vile’s voice is a tranquil escape. While the constant drive that each song maintains is always the steady beat of Vile’s brand of psych rock; it’s lo-fi with slight modifications and twists but always, incredibly solid. It suits the album’s reflective feel well and firmly highlights the understated skill behind Vile’s songwriting.
One of Smoke Ring for My Halo’s strongest points is the way Vile is able to showcase a wide range of styles onto the album’s ten songs. On “Society is My Friend,” he tends to the song’s atmospheres with a dark overtone and a strong chug of rhythm in the background; it’s obvious where people make the reference to Springsteen with a song like this and Vile is all the more recognized because of it. Influences aside, the album’s title track is probably one of the most earnest songs of Vile’s career with an acoustic guitar and floor drum in pure support of Vile’s vulnerable words. And the opening song alone, “Baby’s Arms,” introduces an enveloping and immersing sound to Vile’s arsenal and there’s no better way to open it all. While his previous album may have lumped him in with other ‘lo-fi rock’ artists of the same time, Smoke Ring for My Halo proves that Vile is a versatile musician and able to fully progress and adapt.
Where perhaps others would falter, Vile is even able to take a broken down ballad like “Ghost Town” and creates a U2-like stunner of exceptional depth. Chanting auxiliary, a droning guitar and an engrossing pulse drive the song towards a head changing moment on the album. It comes at the perfect time, too, as Vile has already gotten to the end and it’s definitely a mind blowing experience when you come out of it to only find Vile’s voice and guitar at the other end. The album churns to a stalling end with “(shell blues)” and it’s cryptic minute of imbalance – like something out of an old western film – as if there is uneasiness and still, final closure with it all. In the end, it’s Vile way of capping off what is actually his fourth album and already, a strong catalog at that.
“Jesus Fever” by Kurt Vile