On his own, Kurt Vile of Philadelphia's
War On Drugs
performed amateurish garage-rock on
Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher, 2008), that contains the catchy
Freeway, evolving towards a more philosophical
(and acoustic) style on
God Is Saying This To You (2009),
but still pervaded by garage fuzz and
highlighted by a laconic albeit intense fingerpicking style.
Childish Prodigy (Matador, 2009) contains the frenzied
seven-minute shuffle Freak Train,
the love ballad Blackberry, the
acid folk lullaby Overnite Religion,
the bluesy dirge Inside Lookin' Out
as well as the raw boogie Hunchback, spanning a broad range of styles.
Vile often sounds like he is impersonating
Alan Vega or
Lou Reed, and his band owes quite a bit to
the new wave of the late 1970s.
The EP Square Shells (Matador, 2010) split his persona between the
"acid" wordless visionary of Losing Momentum or The Finder and
the verbose hobo-like storyteller of Hey Now I'm Movin.
The hobo won out.
Smoke Ring for My Halo (2011) was his most complex collection yet,
and the most professional-sounding, from the straightforward power-pop
Jesus Fever and In My Time
(neither particularly catchy nor particularly creative)
to the atmospheric shuffle Smoke Ring For My Halo,
and from an oneiric ballad like Ghost Town, somewhere in between
Bob Dylan and the
to the other highlight,
Puppet to the Man, a
Lou Reed-ian rant and slow boogie
that, mildly accelerated, could make the Rolling Stones jealous.
Vile's lyrical acumen is the only support for the
spartan folk lullabies Baby's Arms and Peeping Tomboy,
for the solemn meditation of Society Is My Friend and for the
proud litany of Runner Ups.
Ghost Town and Puppet to the Man, instead, have a magic cinematic
quality that justifies the hype.
The EP So Outta Reach (Matador, 2011) adds six more recordings from the same
sessions, notably The Creature.
Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador, 2013) is inferior to the two albums
that preceded it, despite a generally more mature and confident tone.
Everything is arranged and performed with grace and competence, but also
everything sounds derivative:
the nine-minute opener Wakin on a Pretty Day is a Lou Reed-ian epic,
KV Crimes borrows the most abrasive Neil Young jams,
Pure Pain mimicks Led Zeppelin's hard folk,
Snowflakes Are Dancing is a fatalistic
Bob Dylan-ian rant.
Too Hard is perhaps the most original piece here,
a hazy, dreamy eight-minute elegy that harks back to the era of the
Pearls Before Swine.
The sheer size of the songs has grown because Vile and his band indulge in
lazy transcendent bridges that evoke a calmer, simpler, sober version of
Built To Spill.
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