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Posted on February 21st, 2011 (1:31 pm) by Clayton Williamson

During certain tunes on Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile’s vocals could be mistaken for a folk-oriented Lou Reed, if Reed’s voice didn’t sound like someone shaking a bucket of rocks. Despite distinctive vocals, a warm sound and an impressive technical acumen, Smoke Ring never fulfills the emotional ambitions of its creator, no matter how clear his guitar rings out.

Hailing from Philadelphia, Smoke Ring is Vile’s fourth album and second release for Matador Records after 2009’s Childish Prodigy gave him a slight taste of the indie spotlight. To build upon the momentum he established, Smoke Ring needed to strike a larger nerve, and this aspiration could be why Vile scrapped the lo-fi buzz of his previous album for sonic clarity worthy of a new speaker demo. On a plus, this option for high fidelity proves Vile needn’t hide behind fuzz to demonstrate his acoustic skills, but the beat-up, DIY aura of Childish Prodigy may have been what charmed his fans in the first place.

Lyrics drift between darling romance and deep insecurity, with Vile preferring impulsive emotional jabs to polished poetry. On “Runner Ups”, he chuffs, “Don’t know if you really came, but I feel dumb in asking/You should’ve been an actress you’re so domineering.” Over Smoke Rings 45-minute runtime, Vile’s monotone vocals grow wearisome, even if “In My Time” showcases a semi-poppy respite in colorful contrast to Vile’s delivery. Opener “Baby’s Arms” is a cozy acoustic ditty that could tenderize any lover’s heart, while mid-tempo “Jesus Fever” pulses a train track rhythm in a tune that sounds more than a little like Pete Yorn (Remember him?).

At the end of the day, however, the songs of Smoke Ring never reach the top shelf where Dad hides the $100 bottle of scotch. These tunes sound fine clumped together, but even the strongest moments aren’t vital enough to warrant special attention. “Sometimes I get stuck in a rut too/Its okay, girlfriend” he sings on “Puppet To The Man”, so perhaps he’s comfortable with his creative output and sees no reason to please anyone other than himself. If Vile is happy with an interesting but emotionally distant album, then there is nothing else we can ask of him.

Track List:

1. Baby’s Arms
2. Jesus Fever
3. Puppet To The Man
4. On Tour
5. Society Is My Friend
6. Runner Ups
7. In My Time
8. Peeping Tomboy
9. Smoke Ring For My Halo
10. Ghost Town
11. (shell blues)

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Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

67 / 100
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