Posts Tagged ‘album review’

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

August 28, 2011

Philadelphia singer/songwriter, Kurt Vile released the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo in the spring of this year courtesy of Matador Records, and it’s been on constant rotation in my living room ever since. He first popped on my aural radar when he played at The Great Hall in Toronto as part of Canadian Music Week, opening up for J. Mascis. I caught the last song of his set and quickly realized his music was not to be ignored, Vile was not an artist to simply be left as a name constantly seen hyped and reviewed on music sites, but instead one to get immersed in.

And his fourth album, Smoke Ring For My Halo is definitely an immersive experience, offering up the best of Americana, reminiscent of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and the finest folk and lo-fi rock and roll. The beauty is in the subtlety and strength of his songwriting. Vile’s lyrics are dark and lonesome, delivered in a laconic style that’s all his own. He tends to drag out words or syllables providing the perfect counterpart to his skilled finger-plucking or guitar strums. Vile also seems to be working with the idea of restraint here, as many of the songs could easily blow up into full out jams, yet he and his backing band The Violators rarely let this happen. There is however a great fuzzy climax to “On Tour”, but even here the distortion never gets carried away — the listener is able to feel the closing kick, yet still be privy to the swirling combination of keyboard, harp, slide guitar, and mellotron orbiting Vile’s guitar. It’s truly great stuff.

Tracks like “Runner Up”, “Peeping Tomboy”, “Baby’s Arms”, and “Ghost Town” are slow, sparse, and poignant, and reveal Vile’s adeptness at being one of the best songwriters out there. He creates more than just mood here, he’s created a listening experience in the classic sense, one in which you put the album on and languidly float off for 45 minutes in Vile’s sonic yet relaxed musical realm.

Smoke Ring is buoyed by a pervasive lightness, it ambles along easily, sneers at you, shrugs, and yearns all in equal measure. The refrains and hooks will keep you coming back to the album time and again, and with each listen Vile seems to pull you a bit deeper into his slightly slanted yet inherently enchanted world. There ain’t a throwaway track on the album and the result, Smoke Ring For My Halo is one of the finest records of 2011.

Check it.

Peaking Lights – 936 (Not Not Fun)

July 15, 2011

For Juno Records

Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, husband and wife duo, Peaking Lights, make sun-speckled dub pop psychedelia. The premise is simple: deep repetitive bass, catchy drum loops, extended grooves, and ethereal vocals that also work on repetition and cavernous echo. The result: a perfectly blissed-out album for the summer months, one that will linger in your head long after the album’s played out.

Since the duo spent some time in California and record on the intriguing Not Not Fun label, an immediate comparison can be to fellow labelmate Sun Araw, who operates in the same hypnotic manner, but while “936” leans heavily on reggae and dub influence for groove, it also pays homage to lo-fi psychedelic rock, and even though the tracks on “936” are deep and sludgy, they still manage to feel open and airy. The songs wander, joyfully going nowhere in particular for up eight minutes, and you’ll be right there with them, bobbing your head and grinning.

Take “Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)” for example. Aaron Coyes drops a simple drumbeat, anchors it with a deep bassline for riddim, and tosses in some light guitars, while Indra Dunis provides some haunting, trance-induced vocals and gentle bursts of keyboard. It’s a serene eight minute head-nodder, perfect for afternoon drives down scenic highways — where you’re sitting in shotgun and the windows are down and you’ve got your feet up on the dash, and an arm out the window fighting the wind — and you’re smiling, looking over at your friend driving — he’s wearing a pair of old Ray Bans, and he’s playing the steering wheel like a drum, and honking the horn in time to the beat, while he points out useless historical landmarks along the side of the sun-drenched road as you zip by…

While not too far away compositionally from many dub techno artists like Rhythm and Sound or Deadbeat, Peaking Lights style diverges, because instead of going inward they go out – it’s still heady music, but as their name implies, they take the listener up up up, floating in a headspace above the clouds and the mountain peaks, a place where just enough light and warmth peeks through to make you smile. With “936”, Peaking Lights creates groovy yet subtly romantic music that allows the listener to cheerfully zone out, whilst also playing with the notion of summer nostalgia, and the result is surprisingly radiant. Check it.

Tortoise – Beacons of Ancestorship

May 21, 2009


Thrill Jockey stalwarts Tortoise will release their sixth full-length album on 22 June 2009. It’s been 5 years since “It’s All Around You” was released, so expectations are high and the band does not disappoint. Sounding like the proper follow up to 2001’s “Standards”, “Beacons” is truly a prog album. It is dirty and crisp, simultaneously sounding like it was recorded underwater and in an air-tight studio. And as always, their sound is undefinable – dub, post-rock, lo-fi, electronica, dance, spaghetti western, jazz, classic rock, punk, it’s all there – kinda sounds like the album Trans Am wanted to make after “Future World”.

Tortoise and I have a long, torrid history together. I have been with them since the beginning. Have seen them play live 6 or 7 times. I saw them at The Magic Stick in Detroit for their “Millions Now Living” tour way back when, where they showed up on stage silent with little headlamps and played “Djed” in its entirety. Jeff Parker wasn’t even with them yet. Last I saw them was just a few months back at The Mod Club in Toronto, where they had the drums set up in front of the stage and they reminded me why I loved them in the first place. They are professional musicians that love what they do, and it’s completely evident on stage, when they’re all grooving and smiling, and rocking out a fabulously tight set. 

Johnny Mac still proves to be one on the best sound engineers working in the business today, and I feel this album has much more resonance than “It’s All Around You”, it sounds more urgent and dynamic. Whereas with “It’s All Around You” the band seemed to be rehashing and falling back on familiar patterns and styles, “Beacons” sounds fresh, it sounds new, but still very much like the Tortoise you know and love.  

The title of the album is fitting too. Tortoise helped create and develop the indie rock/indietronic scene we all shoegaze, get baked, and rock out to. Their musical influence really knows no bounds. Buy this album as soon as it hits the stores and if you’ve never seen them play live go see their show. Like Boomkat would say: Very highly recommended.