CD Reviews

Smoke Ring for My Halo, 100 Lovers and Several Shades of Why

Kurt Vile Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador Records)


On one level, the music of Philly singer/songwriter Kurt Vile sounds at home among the neo-folk, indie-acoustic crowd, his guitar fingerpicking and dream-logic lyrics undoubtedly appealing to that audience. On another level, however, he simply extends the fractured pop of ’90-era Sonic Youth, his eerie instrument tunings and slurred, slacker vocals owing more to Thurston Moore than Devendra Banhart. But Vile’s music possesses a unique cadence and energy. “I packed my suitcase with myself /but I’m already gone,” he sings in “Jesus Fever,” a jangly, lo-fi rock tune that deserves better than a tinny drum-machined loop, and that screams out for Vile to drop his quiet-singing shtick and, well, scream out his compelling lyrics. It’s easy to forgive him for obscurant tendencies, though, especially as his big, garagey songs—“Puppet to the Man,” say—are intoxicating in their bluesy swagger. Overall, Halo is a crown with which to king this palpable, promising young talent. ★★★★☆


DeVotchKa 100 Lovers (Anti-)


“Cinematic” is a term affixed to rock bands striving for an epic sound evoking the sensation of a motion-picture camera as it soars above canyons, forests, megacities. But it remains the only adjective to describe the yearning musicality of Denver’s DeVotchKa. Appropriately famous in Hollywood for having scored indie flick Little Miss Sunshine, the mariachi/klezmer/gypsy-rock/spaghetti Western quartet delivers its sixth album and second for the exalted Anti- label (home of Tom Waits and Nick Cave). 100 Lovers is a breathtaking collection of mind-haunting, heart-crushing songs. From the goth guitar-smashed-into-an accordion pop-rock of “The Man of San Sebastian” (perfect for reading a Graham Greene novel by) to the symphonic Mexican ballad “Bad Luck Heels,” 100 Lovers is 100 kinds of awesome. This is so-called world music for darkly romantic souls looking for elegant, edgy music loaded with apocalyptic fatalism. The lush landscape of “Ruthless”—full of conga drums, vibraphone, nylon string guitar and more—is unlike anything else. ★★★★☆


J Mascis Several Shades of Why (Sub Pop)


“Why?” isn’t a question you need ask when presented with an acoustic-based album from amplifier-blowing six-string wizard and Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis. The guy has always stacked his band’s ear drum-damaging music high and deep with layers of acoustic guitars, plus he does have a couple of earlier, unplugged full-lengths under his belt, albeit live recordings of Dino material. Now, a proper-studio solo debut of (mostly) new tunes arrives, and it’s a wonderful showcase for his varied songwriting. His love for old ’60s and ’70s folk shines through in the big wide open chords of “Is It Done,” with a melodic hook that not even Mascis’ cracked, unsteady and signature vocals can undermine. “Not Enough,” meanwhile, trucks along like some old American Beauty-era Grateful Dead country rocker. Lyrically, Mascis sticks to affairs of the heart; he’s no protest singer despite the deafening stage volume that made him semi-famous. Regardless, a quiet gem from an unquiet artist. ★★★☆☆

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By Andreas Hale, Andreas Hale

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