Album Review: Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
Smoke Ring For My Halo
Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring for My Halo is an album of deceptions. First there’s his name; usually artists with monikers like Vicious, Rotten, Manson and Failure have a certain image to promote. Naturally then, I was expecting a rough Andrew W.K-type character. Turns out, Kurt’s family name really is Vile and my presumptions were way off.
Then there’s the issue of Vile’s sound. I’ll be honest, the first time through the album doesn’t really wow. It’s a seeming one-note, one instrument deal. But even though the acoustic guitar is the featured instrument, there’s a lot in the background waiting to be noticed. Smoke Ring for My Halo as a whole has a glowing reverberant quality to it. It’s as if a few instruments have been magnified to sound like an orchestra. At first the distant, hazy vocals seems lacking in production quality but it also gives the ambiance of performing in the back of a smoky bar, which suits Vile perfectly. It’s the kind of music that requires patience and attention, not everything is revealed on the first listen. It’s also the reason you likely won’t hear it on the radio.
Furthermore, Vile’s voice isn’t what you’d immediately describe as “good”. He has that twangy, mumbly, off-key Bob Dylan thing going on. Plus, he enunciates like a punk rocker. But don’t let first impressions fool you; he actually has a lot of interesting things to say. Though his tone is consistently sad and self-deprecating, a few more listens reveals that he’s being wry and sarcastic, even funny, most of the time. Take for example, ‘Puppet to the Man’, “This one goes out to all those who want the rat to survive. And of course by this I am alluding I want him to die.” Maybe I’m weird, but that gets a giggle from me every time.
Smoke Ring for My Halo has an incredible fluidity to it. Each song trickles easily into the next, from ‘Baby’s Arms’ right through to ‘Ghost Town’. It’s the kind of music you listen to while contemplating your life. The strange thing however, is the discord between vocals and instrumentation. There are many times where things seem to come unglued. Whether or not it’s been planned this way is debatable. Sometimes it sounds poetic, other times it sounds…drunk; though just enough to make you cringe a little, without derailing the song. For these reasons, I liken Smoke Ring for My Halo to a loosely knitted afghan; it still works perfectly well as a blanket but would be a lot warmer if it were more tightly woven.