My stereo has had Kurt Vile on constant rotation lately... he's monopolising my ears! Weird, because only a month ago I'd judged the book by its cover and nigh-on written him off as being 'not-my-cup-of-tea' for reasons unknown. Anyway... one leap of faith, five albums and a couple of EPs later and I've now undertaken an almighty volte-face: each of his records has struck a real chord... but it's this one above all that has really squirmed its way under my skull. Oddly, I recall not being particularly taken at first introduction - but it's been the same story with each album; they've all taken a good half dozen listens to reveal their considerable but deep-rooted charms. For once the cliché of 'the grower' seems truly apt: something weird happens the sixth or seventh time you play a Kurt Vile album! I began with his most recent effort, Wakin On A Pretty Daze - his most focused set of songs and hence a decent start point - and worked backwards, through the much-touted Smoke Ring For My Halo (mellower, looser, less cosmic) and ultimately ending up at the beginning with Constant Hitmaker and God Is Saying This To You, both collections of earlier home recordings that pre-date Childish Prodigy, which is technically his third record but in another sense feels like his first 'proper' album. Gone is the pieced-together lo-fi aesthetic of the earlier records: C.P. is a cohesive entity, best taken en bloc, rather than shuffled around and consumed piecemeal. Half the songs here have full-band-style arrangements bordering on the 'catchy'... albeit in a very loose, offhand, psychedelic-rock sense... also they have a vaguely 'bummerish', downbeat quality that stops them descending/ascending into purer 'pop' territory (Amplifier, with its skittering, propulsive drums and out-of-nowhere, gorgeous trumpet coda, being my favourite). The other half of the record comprises much more stripped-down material, the best of which is really pretty stark and has a strange, stupefactive, almost hypnotic quality; most notably Dead Alive and the absolutely-spellbinding Heart Attack, with its recurrent, circling guitar line and repeated refrain (of "You better get yer head, re-screwed on"). Far from awkward bedfellows, they sit beautifully beside the more fulsome tracks and, after a while, proceedings really do meld into something that, to invoke another rock music cliché, amounts to far greater than the sum of its parts.
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Kurt Vile is without a doubt the best musician in his field of 'ambient rock' you could say. His voice lies perfectly over the bed of soothing, sometimes foreign sounds, interesting effects and in perfect harmony with a multitude of beautifully played guitar melodies, each one leading into the next but somehow completely different. He's the only artist I know who manages to keep the same atmosphere over all 5 albums, but still managing to make each song individual and innovative in some way. I've always loved Kurt so I guess I'm biased, but I've waited a long time to buy this album and it really paid off. The kind of thing you want to listen to all the way through, as well as having individual songs which work well together. Kurt Vile deserves your respect, and your ears deserve to hear his magic!
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