Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gut Feeling: Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy

Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy
Matador, 2009

I really wanted to own this on vinyl. I love the cover art and the record has quickly become one of my favorites of 2009. However, when I saw that the vinyl copy doesn't have the last two songs on the CD (although “He's Alright” was released as a 7”), coupled with the insane $17 price tag I had to refuse. It was actually elemental in my decision to quit buying records. They are just too motherfucking expensive. On top of that, Vile makes reference to people who spend all their cash on records and things that just sit around, and how he's not one of those people. Not that I'm looking up to him, but he has a point, and no, you're right, I shouldn't buy your record Kurt! Even though I really want to because it's great and I feel I've listened to it enough times to warrant owning it.

As music director, my assistant Alison would constantly rave about Mr. Vile and I never really got past “Freeway.” His records have all felt a little scattered to me. There are some great songs spread across them, I've found, but on a whole they feel inconsistent. Except this one, which feels like a fucking grand statement. He's reworked “Hunchback” for the 800th time or so and finally found the most compelling way to do it. It kills, it's one of the moodiest jams of the year and I specifically put it on when I was driving over to First Management to get canned. It put me in the mood to give them a piece of my mind. My favorite song is “Monkey,” which is the poppiest song Vile has produced since “Freeway.” I started by listening for just one line: “The other night you were away I missed you so bad/ I found me doing something desperate I was so sad/ I swear I held my own hand pretending it was yours.” It kills me, and it's the most focused Vile has been as a songwriter. Usually he relies on utter weirdness and sounds like he is just randomly making shit up off the top of his head, and while that's great (“I got a trumpet/ I know where to dump it” from “Freeway” is a pretty awesome line), but “Monkey” feels really focused without sacrificing any of his um, offbeat lyricisms. Lots of wordplay, as usual. “I see you saw me in the mirror/ In half.” Love it.

The production is gritty but steers clear of the shitgaze pile I was afraid he was going to fall into. Over the past year, shitgaze has gone from the next big best thing ever to a slog of a bunch of bands that all sound alike. It's that tied with the neo-garage thing that I liked at first and now can't stand. Vile sounds like he honed his sound in a garage, but it's doused with enough reverb and intricate guitar work that it separates it from the rest. The quieter jams on this record are just as important as the big, rock n' roll ones. While not as immediately satisfying, tunes like “Blackberry Song” and “Heart Attack” grow on you, especially when the CD hasn't left your car and you're driving around on a cool fall day. They really showcase Vile's gifts as a guitarist, which is nice. Relaxing even, and perhaps it's this jumping between downplayed acoustic based numbers and upbeat classic-rock inspired fist pumpers that makes this such a compelling record.

Honestly, the only real problem I have with the record is that I usually think “Freak Train” is about a minute and a half too long and I get just a LITTLE bored with it. But there's that part around the five minute mark where Vile just screams the word “SHIT!” in an awesomely bile fueled manner. It's a driving track though, easy to get caught up in and earns its length with a pseudo-free jazz freakout in the latter part of the song. It's exciting, but never cluttered unless intentionally so.

Though “Overnite Religion” cops part of the melody from “Freeway,” this makes sense for Kurt Vile, as he is someone who is constantly reworking ideas over and over again and finding the best outlet for them. It's sort of like sausage factory recording, in which his last three albums are a chance to see how he write his songs and processes information. Childish Prodigy feels like the finished product, but who knows, maybe another version of “Hunchback” will show up again and again until he quits making records, which will probably be when he dies as he's someone I could see making records well into his 90s. Obscure weird folk records, surely, for the later century.

MP3>>>Kurt Vile - "Hunchback"

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