The 2011 album from Philadelpia-based songwriter Kurt Vile is as distinctive and intriguing as its title: Smoke Ring For My Halo. In his fourth full-length release he dug into the depths of alternative rock and brought forth a combination of lyrical intensity and guitar virtuosity that makes for compelling listening.

kurt-vile-album-coverOne moment he sounds like a young Leon Russell, particularly with In My Baby’s Arms, and the next with Society is My Friend and Jesus Fever he and his band The Violators (great name) are bringing to mind the ringing guitars and cleverly casual lyrics of Tom Petty. But then he’ll come up with something so far from normal that he becomes truly the newest incarnation of The Velvet Underground. Still his own inimitable spirit shines through, though that spirit is often drenched in misery. Some call it stoned folk, as if John Fahey met up with Tim Rose and quaffed a few with Nick Drake in an all-night songwriting session. Electrified pessimism charges the air around Kurt Vile.

“I don’t want to change but I don’t want to stay the same” he sings over some gorgeous acoustic guitar work in Peeping Tomboy, which is not exactly an appealing title but the track is irresistible in its musicality and its confessional tone. No one else would dare to write this song.

The band’s live performances are intense, with the Violators providing a strong and tightly-knit backing to Kurt’s highly concentrated and somewhat lengthy tunes that captivate; he doesn’t enter much into the arena of the audience but they sure as hell are in for a unique experience: not rock, not folk, but something highly original that threatens several genres at once.

Like Josh T. Pearson’s release The Last Of The Country Gentlemen, this record takes you to unexpected places, disconcerting and exhilarating at the same time.

Highly recommended.

Kurt Vile 'Smoke Ring for My Halo'
3.8Overall Score