Kurt Vile makes American music—rambling, loose, confident—and Smoke Ring For My Halo is no exception. Layers of guitar weave in and out of each other, loose acoustic strumming, rapid finger picking and chunky electric riffs dance and overlap. Vile understands space. Each guitar part has room to meander, loop, mingle and fall back into place. There’s often a lot going on but the album never feels cluttered. A confident fluidity pervades Vile’s songs. Of course, floating in and out of the mix is Vile’s distinctive singing voice—an easy, deadpan croon. While not a traditionally beautiful voice, Vile’s vocal style creates a sense of intimacy. He often seems to musing out loud and just happened to have had a guitar in hand at the moment.
The album runs a consistent forty-six minutes and ten songs, taking its time but never dragging or feeling slow-paced. Instead, the deliberate slowness of the album is one of the reasons it succeeds. Songs like album-standout “On Tour” work so well because Vile does not rush himself. He gives songs room to breathe. That is not to say that Smoke Ring is a thoroughly sleepy affair, however. On “Jesus Fever,” a shimmering soundscape of guitars are propelled by a quick drumbeat that makes for one of the most memorable tracks on the album. Album closer “Ghost Town,” again showcasing Vile’s patience, slowly builds as a lightly strummed acoustic guitar part is covered in waves of electric guitar fuzz and pounding drums.
Kurt Vile’s music is confident but not showy, relaxed but not boring. It is set solidly in the tradition of American music but also certainly his own. Play this album and drive around in the desert in an old convertible.
Smoke Ring For My Halo is the fourth album by Philadelphia-native Kurt Vile and his second for Matador Records. It was released on March 8, 2011.