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Kurt Vile: Childish Prodigy

B+
Album: Childish Prodigy
Label: Matador

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Kurt Vile might be mistaken for any number of heady garage-rock acts that write songs about weed, man. A 7-minute-plus song called “Freak Train” lends credence to the proposition, and a subsequent soundscape titled “Goodbye, Freaks” does little to refute it. But Vile’s second full-length is notable for accomplishing a difficult feat: balancing a willful lack of self-control with a disciplined, oddly ascetic compositional approach.

Most of the songs on Childish Prodigy involve a repetitive, fingerpicked guitar pattern that calls to mind charming classic rock, of the sort found on the Almost Famous soundtrack. But for the most part, these phrases don’t blossom into triumphant choruses, but find themselves stuck in recursive loops, compressing and expanding as Vile grows increasingly agitated. Sometimes, as with “Freak Train,” he loses it completely, ejecting expletives like a grotesque Tourette’s stereotype.

But Vile—who also plays in Philadelphia’s Americana-inflected The War On Drugs—boasts a surprising range for a man whose album title and vocal delivery hint at the temperament of an overgrown adolescent. The finest track on Childish Prodigy, “Blackberry,” is a love song done slow and soft—and not freaky at all.