This is the fourth release from singer/songwriter Kurt Vile and sees him returning to the safe arms of Matador Records. Fans of previous albums, such as Childish Prodigy, will be familiar with Vile’s prominent use of resonators that lend him that gritty background sound. This album however takes a much more subtle approach to effects, ushering the guitar and vocals into the limelight. The synthesizers, saxophones, and harmonicas have retreated to a more humble position for this recording. A move that was likely to have been implemented by producer John Agnello.
Agnello has worked with many distinguished artists, most notably Bob Dylan. More recent projects include production for Dinosaur Jr., Drive-By Truckers, and Sonic Youth. Agnello’s influence on Smoke Ring For My Halo makes for a much crisper sound and unveils Vile as more singer than musician. This approach is perfectly timed seeing as Vile’s lyrics are maturing into more insightful areas. Tracks like ‘Puppet To The Man’ and ‘Society Is My Friend’ have an unmistakeable tinge of Dylan in them.
There is something strangely familiar about Kurt Vile’s voice that tends to conjure up a kind of empathy within the listener. If you were to walk in on this album at certain points you could easily think that this was the work of Fleet Foxes’ singer Robin Pecknold, possibly on his elusive side project. While other sections of Smoke Ring For My Halo come across like some forgotten Neil Young record. Whether intentional or not, this technique works well for Vile and it shows a clear path to where his influences lie.
Smoke Ring.. is a delightfully soft album, and one that should probably be reserved for a long drive across some baron landscape. If you like the sound of this album at all you need to let it breathe for a while and then return to it at a later date. Records like this don’t show their true colours for quite some time.