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Album Review

Kurt Vile: “Smoke Ring for My Halo’’

March 8, 2011

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Philadelphian Kurt Vile plays guitar like Leo Kottke dreams: a tangle of arpeggios and fingerpicks, quick flourishes and darts up the neck, hazy and unfinished and dreamlike. He’s an antithetical guitar hero, as the knots of acoustic guitars in “Jesus Fever’’ and “Runner Ups’’ prove, yet not afraid to get reductive with a meaty riff every now and then. After three albums of lo-fi bedroom pop, Vile brings his band (the Violators, natch) and co-producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., The Hold Steady) on board for added complexity, clarity, and oomph. Though Agnello helps flesh out full-band arrangements on “Puppet to the Man,’’ “In My Time,’’ and “On Tour,’’ the various touchstones of lo-fi recording (click tracks, tape hiss, vocals swaddled in echo and reverb) remain. The result is Vile’s best record to date, an idiosyncratic amalgam of intimate performance and communal expression — and one that continues to reveal new layers upon repeated listens. “Two worlds, one on each shoulder,’’ sings Vile, perched solidly in that in-between place.

ZETH LUNDY

ESSENTIAL “Runner Ups’’