Steve Wilson. On music.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The 2011 Countdown begins with Kurt Vile at No. 25

Starting today, and culminating with REVERBERATIONS number one album of the year on December 31st (if my math is right), we’ll be counting down the top twenty-five records of 2011. I’m referring to this countdown as Twenty-five Faves because I have no pretenses about telling you what’s “best.” Sure, I think my taste is better than yours. But nobody died and made me Lester Bangs. And Lester could be arrogant, but I kind of think he would come down on the favorite side of the fave/best dichotomy. His criticism was nothing if not personal.

I've reviewed the majority of these selections. In the event that I have I'll simply recycle the original reviews, sometimes with a little new commentary. If it's a selection I haven't reviewed previously, I will dash off a new, brief, introductory review just for perspective.


My introduction to Kurt Vile was as Adam Granduciel’s chief cohort on Wagonwheel Blues a quietly mesmerizing album by Granduciel’s band War on Drugs. With lush guitar atmospheres that straddled genres and generations, Wagonwheel Blues had vocals that sounded like a mixture of Neil Young and Jason Pierce (Spaceman 3). The songs were good enough to emerge from the fog of the music, but sometimes you didn’t care if they did.

Providing continuity, Kurt Vile's War on Drugs pal Granduciel contributes to seven tracks on Halo. Halo crystallizes everything good about Vile's earlier music, casts his aesthetic in superior production, all without taking away it’s worn, melancholy essence. Vile’s is the voice of the down but not out bohemian, aware of his outsider status and trying to dig in. In “Puppet to the Man” he sings “you best believe I am” in a Courtney Taylor Taylor drawl implying both recognition and defiance. The post-Fahey fingerpicking of “Baby’s Arms” drips a similar guarded ambivalence. Vile sings that he’ll “never ever, ever be alone” but it sounds mordantly wishful rather than certain. Throughout Halo Vile makes deals with mortality and God, culminating in the two-chord blast of “Ghost Town,” in which he suggest he was present at the birth of Christ as if here were describing events just outside his window.

Sometimes Vile suggests a less pop Elliott Smith, a kinship with East River Pipe, sometimes a latter day Neil Young, other times he's a descendant of Lou Reed's demi-monde visions.  Throughout Halo, he and his band the Violators create and sustain a downcast, but defiant mood and deliver moving performances of Vile's darkly moving songs.

Weary but glorious, Kurt Vile does more than make records; he creates a world for the listener to enter.

1 comment:

Sandy Beverly said...

Thanks, glad to learn about this record.