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Posted at 1:33 PM ET, 03/ 4/2011

Kurt Vile’s hazy rock becomes refined "Smoke Ring"

By Chris Richards

kurt vileKurt Vile eliminates some clutter and ends up with the best album of his career. (Courtesy Matador Records)

When Kurt Vile arrived on the blogosphere in 2008, his hazy rock songs were the kind that made you want to know everything about the hairy dude singing them.

Was he from Brooklyn? (No, Philly.) Was he a slacker? (No.) Did he once make his living driving a forklift? (Yes.) Was “Vile” his real last name? (Yep.) Was he a baby-faced wizard sent from the future to save rock-and-roll? (Maybe!)

In 2011, Vile is a young dad with a 10-month-old daughter and a new album, “Smoke Ring for My Halo,” out Tuesday. It’s his fourth and, without doubt, his best, lifting the psychedelic smog of his previous work to reveal magnetic melodies, warm textures and a lyric sheet smeared with dark humor.

On Monday, after buying a hoagie from the Palm Tree Market in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, the 31-year-old songwriter sat in his Toyota Echo and answered questions on his cellphone about the tour he’d be on in a few hours -- a mini-campaign up and down the East Coast playing solo acoustic gigs at mom-and-pop record stores. (He performed at Red Onion Records & Books in Washington and Sound Garden in Baltimore on Wednesday.)

“It’s a more intimate thing,” Vile said of the store gigs.

If Vile feels most comfy just singing alone with his guitar, you can hear it on “Smoke Ring.” His band, the Violators, takes it easy during most of the 11 tracks, allowing Vile’s love for intricate, John Fahey-inspired finger-picking to effervesce to the top.

“For this record, I wanted to have a concise sort of sonic theme. . . . It’s on this epic folk spectrum,” Vile said. “My previous records jumped around . . . and a lot of that has to do with the fact that when I finally got people to put my records out, I had this huge backlog of old songs.”

Those albums were culled from years of bedroom recordings that, like so many Meat Puppets tunes before them, eyed the mountaintops of classic rock from the primitive, psych-punk valleys below. They earned Vile blog attention and generous comparisons to his heroes: Dylan, Springsteen and Petty.

He was signed to indie mainstay Matador Records for his third album, 2009’s “Childish Prodigy.” But when that wasn’t received with hosannas, he felt the stakes rise.

“I almost had a meltdown before I started [‘Smoke Ring’],” Vile said. “Recording, it can be nerve-wracking, because you have this record in mind but you really have no idea what’s going to come out on the other side.”

John Agnello, the esteemed producer who has worked with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., was recruited to ease things into focus. And during the recording sessions, Vile found another source of peace: fatherhood.

“There are so many little things in life that you can trip out about,” Vile said. “But once you have a kid, you realize that it doesn’t mean [much].”

By Chris Richards  | March 4, 2011; 1:33 PM ET
Categories:  In today's Post  | Tags:  Kurt Vile  
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