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Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring For My Halo

B+

Kurt Vile

Album: Smoke Ring For My Halo
Label: Matador

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An intoxicating brew of ambient drone and Bruce Springsteen-style bombast distinguished Kurt Vile’s work with The War On Drugs, and his fantastic 2009 solo album, Childish Prodigy, embedded looping, loping guitar lines in a fine-grained matrix of buzz. Vile’s fourth full-length, Smoke Ring For My Halo, filters out much of that extraneous noise—all the better to showcase the Philadelphian’s psych-tinged hooks—but retains the drum-machine patter and stoned shit-talking that give him his dozy menace. Nothing here measures up to the pummeling paranoia of “Freak Train” from Prodigy, and hopefully the lack of even one barbaric yawp doesn’t signal a dialing down in vocal intensity á la Matt Berninger of The National. “Runner Ups,” though, is a good introduction to Vile’s draggy, druggy side, with conversational vocals that drift between the spokes of cyclical acoustic guitar-plucking that somehow builds in intensity without changing a lick. Elsewhere, the more focused production (courtesy of John Agnello, who’s worked with Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth) dovetails with more traditionally structured songs and even a guitar solo or two, like on the reflective “In My Time.” Smoke Ring For My Halo is a repetitive album in the best possible sense, even if some of Vile’s distinctive sound was shorn off along with the fuzz.