(4 out of 5)
There is a puzzling precision to the music of Kurt Vile. The Philly-based singer/songwriter makes songs that are pretty raw, emotionally, and releases them at a fairly prolific pace; however, while that description would ordinarily signify a sloppy oeuvre that tilts toward quantity over quality, Kurt Vile’s music is high-grade, thoughtful material that is anything but sloppy. And on SMOKE RING FOR MY HALO – Vile’s fourth full-length album in under three years – he’s delivered another stunning album that deftly balances itself between thoughtful drama and spontaneous soul-baring. The multiple layers at work here – whether on the gently rustic “Runner Ups” or the fractured blues of “Puppet to the Man” – unveil themselves organically. The vitriolic whisper of a cut like “Society Is My Friend” would, in lesser hands, be a washed-out acoustic number or a spastic rocker; Vile makes it an open-ended question that fills the room with churning instrumentation that hovers somewhere between rock n’ roll rebellion and folksy lament. Vile’s true gift is that he’s a born arranger, able to naturally (and quickly) turn his ideas into unique and provocative songs that are as beautiful as they are haunting.