Philadelphia singer/songwriter, Kurt Vile released the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo in the spring of this year courtesy of Matador Records, and it’s been on constant rotation in my living room ever since. He first popped on my aural radar when he played at The Great Hall in Toronto as part of Canadian Music Week, opening up for J. Mascis. I caught the last song of his set and quickly realized his music was not to be ignored, Vile was not an artist to simply be left as a name constantly seen hyped and reviewed on music sites, but instead one to get immersed in.
And his fourth album, Smoke Ring For My Halo is definitely an immersive experience, offering up the best of Americana, reminiscent of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and the finest folk and lo-fi rock and roll. The beauty is in the subtlety and strength of his songwriting. Vile’s lyrics are dark and lonesome, delivered in a laconic style that’s all his own. He tends to drag out words or syllables providing the perfect counterpart to his skilled finger-plucking or guitar strums. Vile also seems to be working with the idea of restraint here, as many of the songs could easily blow up into full out jams, yet he and his backing band The Violators rarely let this happen. There is however a great fuzzy climax to “On Tour”, but even here the distortion never gets carried away — the listener is able to feel the closing kick, yet still be privy to the swirling combination of keyboard, harp, slide guitar, and mellotron orbiting Vile’s guitar. It’s truly great stuff.
Tracks like “Runner Up”, “Peeping Tomboy”, “Baby’s Arms”, and “Ghost Town” are slow, sparse, and poignant, and reveal Vile’s adeptness at being one of the best songwriters out there. He creates more than just mood here, he’s created a listening experience in the classic sense, one in which you put the album on and languidly float off for 45 minutes in Vile’s sonic yet relaxed musical realm.
Smoke Ring is buoyed by a pervasive lightness, it ambles along easily, sneers at you, shrugs, and yearns all in equal measure. The refrains and hooks will keep you coming back to the album time and again, and with each listen Vile seems to pull you a bit deeper into his slightly slanted yet inherently enchanted world. There ain’t a throwaway track on the album and the result, Smoke Ring For My Halo is one of the finest records of 2011.