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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo: A-

It’s coming to the close of the little music festival you and your friends had been organizing for a couple of months, and the final band that was supposed to play folk-influenced marimba (or at least that’s what it said they played on their website) still hasn’t shown up. The first three bands that played were good, and the crowd of a little less than a hundred people is pleasantly surprised how well these couple of college kids managed to get their shit together enough to put on a pretty good show. But, without that show-ender, all that you’ve worked for is going to end in a flat and awkward failure. There are about five minutes left of the last group before the folk marimba band’s supposed to play and you get a call from their manager saying that the band’s stuck in Pittsburg traffic and won’t be able to make it. You panic. It says on the program that the show goes until ten, and there’s no way you’re going to go up there and embarrass yourself in front of all those people. You confer with your colleagues to think of any last-minute plans, and Bill, ever the optimist, suggests something.

“That guy, Kurt. Hasn’t he written like a bunch of songs?”

“Yeah, I guess, but does he have enough to play a forty minute set?”

“Probably. I see him playing a guitar on the quad all the time and I don’t think I’ve ever heard him play the same song twice. I mean, do we have any other options?”

“I guess not… Is Kurt around?”

“Yeah. He goes to all these open mic-type things.”

Kurt arrives as if in a blissful daze. His wavy brown hair rests on his shoulders and his eyes are always half-closed, even when speaking to you. He seems nice enough and assures you that he has enough material to finish the set; he just needs an electric, an acoustic and maybe a drummer if you can spare one. You have all three, so you oblige and thrust him onstage a couple minutes after the last band has played. The audience is quiet as Kurt methodically sits at the stool center stage, grabs the acoustic laid out for him and starts fingerpicking the first notes of “Baby’s Arms.”

Smoke For My Halo is so personable, it sounds as if it were performed by a friend you never knew was a musical genius. His sluggish drawl conjures the image of an intense slacker, but he focuses that mentality into gorgeous songs that are relatable and often hilarious. There’s a song about Jesus, one about being on tour, one about selling out, and a shit ton about girls, apathy and some combination of the two. Smoke For My Halo is richly produced with extra percussion and clever guitar effects that contradict the laziness Vile emits so well in his performance. It’s an endearing effort that might convince you to turn up the bass a little and rest that extra hour before starting that really important paper you’ve been meaning to get to. I know a guy that reminds me of the Kurt Vile on Smoke Ring For My Halo, and you do, too. And you’re not alone if you count Vile’s success here as a win for that guy, as well.