Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2013
Childish Prodigy is far and away my favorite thing Kurt Vile has released. It’s also my favorite fall record. There’s something here that just feels unfuckwithably autumnal. I think it’s the way the finger picking sounds on “Blackberries” that really does it for me. Somehow that song sounds like sitting around a campfire when it's fifty degrees. Every fall, I burn off a new copy of Childish Prodigy and it takes up residence in my car stereo’s rotation for three months. Honestly, it probably just has to do with the fact that I listened to this album non-stop in Fall 2009. It was obsessive. My assistant music director at KJHK was a big Vile fan and had pushed his first couple records (Constant Hitmaker and God is Saying This to You) into KJ’s rotation but I paid them little mind with the exception of “Freeway” from Constant Hitmaker because holy shit what a jam. I was all over Childish Prodigy though. From the title to the cover art to the free MP3 of “Overnite Religion” Matador release in advance of the album, I was pretty much already sold. And then to be so thoroughly sold, I embraced it like true love. And still, I didn’t buy it. It was shortly after the prices of new vinyl had jumped from $14 to $17 (I think Matador led the way on this, and really it’s no fault to them, the economy had just tanked and times was tough) and as much as I wanted it, I was fucking broke and fresh out of college and working 12 hours a week at a shitty property management company (in my review of Vile’s latest album—Wakin on a Pretty Daze—I went into great detail about the role Childish Prodigy lead-off track “Hunchback” in my getting pumped up to get fired from said shitty property management company. For some reason I find that story particularly joyful and that song is the soundtrack).
Finally, after years of waiting, it waltzed into HPB and I jumped on it like a mad dog. The reviews seem to imply that Childish Prodigy was a bit uneven but the rough edges were smoothed out on his follow up Smoke Ring for My Halo and further refined on Wakin on a Pretty Daze, but I think Childish Prodigy has more spark and energy than both of those records combined. It’s the rawness, I’m sure. The unrestrained qualities of “Freak Train” that cause Vile to stretch the thing out for seven minutes of repetition but to make that repetition sound totally fresh all the way through via saxophone skronks, guitar meltdown hysterics, and shouted expletives. It’s like a meditation in gritty slacker rock and it’s fucking magnificent.
Outside of the grooving and vital “Freak Train” and the ass-kicking “Hunchback” (there are at least like 12 version of “Hunchback” scattered over Vile’s myriad early releases but this one is clearly the version that song was always meant to be) most of the album is relatively quiet. A place for Vile to let his songs spread out, sing his weird lyrics, and show off his distinctive guitar stylings. “Blackberry Song” is so beautiful and hypnotic I get lost in it every time. His cover of Dim Stars “Monkey” is joyful and bright, the brightest spot on the album, and the track that really won me over (it didn’t take much). The thing practically shimmers. The quiet and/or mysterious tunes like “Dead Alive,” “Overnite Religion,” “Blackberry Song,” “Heart Attack” and “Inside Lookin Out” (which, with it’s out of control effect-laden harmonica, isn’t so much quiet as it is the psychopath at the bar who seems calm enough but might unleash and fuck your shit up at a moment’s notice) that paint Childish Prodigy’s landscape and the big, majestic jams fill the landscape with fucked up characters and sounds. After almost four years I still can’t find any flaws and while that’s probably just because I’m too emotionally attached to the album, I’ll take emotional attachment over critical prowess any day.
"Monkey" ("I swear I held my own hand pretending it was yours" is a lyric that gets me every time)
*Note: I just realized that I already featured a write-up of Childish Prodigy on this blog! Way back in 2009 when the album came out. It's amazing how my brain keeps track of my opinions on music, which is to say I've written pretty much the same details about my relationship with this album word for word. However, my opinion has shifted (for instance, I no longer find the "Freak Train" boring) a bit.