For his fourth album proper, and first studio album, Kurt Vile has crafted a beautiful, dreamy record to get lost to, as he paints an Americana suffused with optimism and apathy. In largely repudiating his lo-fi influences, he has created an insular, yet inviting album in the heritage of Tom Petty and Elliott Smith, as he contemplates the private and personal, at odds with the obvious alternative music so regularly touted as revolutionary. Kurt Vile has grown into a witty, cynical artist and it has only benefitted his development from an awkward bedroom troubadour to a confident and unique performer, celebrating the halcyon opportunity of the early seventies.
There is a subtlety to this album, as it veers from the fragile acoustics of ‘Peeping Tomboy’ to the brawn of the title track, as he subverts Bright Eyes to found a melancholy, gorgeous lament to hope and loss. This is a whimsical, laconic record, with ‘Jesus Fever’ standing out as an angular folk song, with the jerking chord changes juxtaposed with the intricate finger picking building a rounded aural experience, at odds with his arguably narrow past works. There is a real sense of progression to the record, a culmination of the undoubtedly vast talents of Vile as he steps beyond his self-imposed generic limitations to embrace a more accessible sound with the aid of his backing band The Violators. ‘Puppet To The Man’ implausibly, and brilliantly, contemporises The Velvet Underground, testifying to the sonorous clarity of the record; every pick is now accentuated, with Vile’s voice and poetry a necessity to the depth of the album as a whole. Lou Reed is an obvious influence, but there are also classic rock overtones, infusing a sense of yearning to the record.
Smoke Ring For My Halo is a brilliant album, taking all the potential of his earlier releases to fund a glorious, impulsive journey through seventies alternative America, rich with promise and romance.