Philly-based singer/songwriter Kurt Vile lit up the indie rock radar in 2009 with his cynical, lo-fi, classic rock-meets-N.Y.C. proto-punk Matador debut. Fans of the visceral, D.I.Y. fuzz-folk that dominated Childish Prodigy may be taken aback by the production upgrade on Smoke Ring for My Halo, but the cleaner sound doesn't mean that the floors aren't still filthy. Channeling everyone from the Dead to Mellow Gold-era Beck to Lou Reed, Vile comes off as malcontent, but there's an oddball warmth behind his laconic sneer that echoes the late slacker comedian Mitch Hedberg; for every "I wanna write my whole life down/burn it there to the ground" ("On Tour"), there's an "If it ain't workin', take a whiz on the world" ("Runner Ups"). Sweeter and a little more soulful than Prodigy, Halo leans harder on the urban folk side of Vile's disposition (the album opens with a straight-up love song), but tracks like the churning "Puppet to the Man" and "Society Is My Friend" pick up where Prodigy stompers like "Freak Train" and "Overnight Religion" left off. Vile's guitar work remains predictably strong, especially on the fingerpicked "Peeping Tomboy" and the shimmery title cut, but it's his efforltess, serpentine melodies and amiable, burnout wisdom that keep the listener so enthralled. In an age where angst is delivered with the subtlety of a laser light show, it's nice to hear some good, old-fashioned, smokin'-and-drinkin'-cheap-beers-on-the-porch-with-your-friends-style pessimism. [The two-disc, deluxe edition of Smoke Ring for My Halo adds six bonus cuts to the set, including "The Creature", "It's Alright", "Life's a Beach", "Laughing Stock", "Downbound Train" and "(so outta reach)". ~ James Christopher Monger
Rolling Stone (p.62) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[H]e settles on a mood: chilled-out but guarded, and wrapped in gorgeous folk-blues guitar-picking."
Rolling Stone (p.72) - Ranked #39 in Rolling Stone's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "Vile's hippie folk lays melancholic mumbling over psychedelic ambience..."
Spin (p.81) - "[W]ith alternately anxious and serene guitar....Thanks to John Agnello's warm, enveloping production, SMOKE RINGS FOR MY HALO feels almost suspenseful."
Spin (p.57) - Ranked #4 in Spin's 'The Top 40 Albums Of 2011' -- "[C]onjuring gorgeous layers of cascading guitar, bindle-stiff folk-blues progressions, reverb haze, and hypnotic heartland-rock melodies."
Entertainment Weekly (p.102) - Ranked #10 in Entertainment Weekly's 'The Top 10 Albums Of 2011' -- "Kurt Vile is Philly's stoner-rock prodigy, a prophet of damaged beauty..."
Alternative Press (p.115) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[I]t's more apparent than ever that his best songs stand up as timeless portraits."
The Wire (p.56) - "The songwriting is strong....The quality of the voice, the angular approach to the guitar, the twisted and discontented lyrics -- all are present."
Uncut (magazine) (p.34) - Ranked #14 in Uncut's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "[With] memorable songs that simultaneously sounded both crafted and spontaneous."