Crash Thursday: Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
Genre: Indie Rock/Lo-Fi Rock
Origin: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kurt Vile is rightly suited to be signed with a label like Matador Records. The label also has Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Belle and Sebastian, and Thurston Moore, all artists whom really have a specific focus on lyricism and guitar work but whom also apply thematic elements to their style. The fact that Kurt's last record was a lo-fi wonder of indie rock makes it hard to imagine this guy appearing on any other label, considering his emphasis for the ideas mentioned above. Yet he returns with Smoke Ring For My Halo, working with a sound that's a little more "grander" this time around, in the sense that the production quality is a bit of an improvement. It works for the most part, even if the songs themselves are still very well wound up in previous territory.
As such, most of the songs do not respond with exploratory notions or fresh ideas, but they rather relieve themselves by remaining consistent. A lot of Halo is made up of nice little numbers like "Baby's Arms" and "Peeping Tomboy," whose guitar picking is stunning and singing style helps to match the lyrical content. Perhaps the album really hits its stride when songs open up to bolder arrangements. "In My Time" allows Kurt to expand on simple guitar and effects and offer a lot more acoustic variation and instrument implementation. "Jesus Fever" almost hearkens back to swell times when one would just pick up a guitar and jam with friends, without any obtrusiveness.
As I mentioned above, the sound quality has improved to bring out the timbre of his instruments, but the nature of his songwriting places him squarely in a lo-fi zone. "I wanna write my whole life down / Burn it there to the ground / I wanna sing at the top of my lungs / For fun, screaming annoyingly" he softly sings on "On Tour", but the cleaner sounds in the recording almost make the lyrics rather stilted. You can tell Kurt is providing the album with his lyricism, a key component that's just as good as any guitarist would want or expect from others like Lou Reed, but the better production and guitar playing, as good as they are, do not often give him the support his lyrics are searching for.
There's no doubt that Kurt does a commendable job on his second record. He gets plenty of credit for his songwriting and guitar playing abilities, even if it doesn't entirely live up to the full potential. If you're looking for some nice guitar playing that doesn't look to much to impress but heads along the safe route, Smoke Ring For My Halo has plenty to offer. Then again, a lot of artists on Matador have plenty to offer.
Kurt Vile - "In My Time"
Kurt Vile - "Jesus Fever"
Smoke Ring For My Halo is now available on Matador Records.