Kurt Vile 

Smoke Ring For My Halo

Smoke Ring For My Halo sounds familiar the first time you hear it, as if Kurt Vile was a traveler from an alternate 1970s in which Neil Diamond was never born and Lou Reed had to do everything. Except that's not really what Smoke Ring sounds like. It sounds like the Rolling Stones if they had done quaaludes instead of coke after Let It Bleed, or like "Gimme Danger" as arranged by Elliott Smith. So basically we're talking about the last 40 years of American pop music distilled by one surly dude with a guitar.

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And, Jesus, it is good. You could play the influence game for all 45 minutes of Smoke Ring, but you'd miss the words. Any question that Vile is merely being clever is answered by the odd, moving specificity of his lyrics. Lines like, "I get sick of just about everyone / and I hide in my baby's arms / because except for her, you know, as I've implied" live on the border between resentment and fatigue—a place the album makes viscerally real. It's a honky tonk somewhere during the off hours, and there's a man hung-over and mumbling to the jukebox. He is telling the truth.

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