Kurt Vile, Childish Prodigy

Yancey Strickler

By Yancey Strickler

on 06.15.11 in Reviews

Childish Prodigy is Kurt Vile's big unveiling, a leap from the world of basement shows and limited-edition 7-inches — where he's a straight-up hero — to Matador Records and the indie mainstream. And it is, for the most part, successful. It captures the Bruised Springsteen feel of Constant Hitmaker — big, booming songs broken and beaten — the folksy demo aesthetic of God Is Saying This to You (my favorite record of his), and the more professional and muscular sound of The Hunchback EP, his final pre-Matador release.

Rambling, warped lullabyes from a Philly lo-fi rock troubador’s big coming-out party

Prodigy opens with the previously released "Hunchback," jacked up to sound like some of those forgotten Blues Explosion records — though it's not as extreme. Upon first listen, it reminded me of being confronted with Jon Spencer's Now I Got Worry, their swing at a wider audience (or at least it felt that way at the time). "Hunchback" is loud and menacing, its slow-footed pace all the more intimidating.

Thankfully, the record backs away from that (I was terrified when I first listened to the record that he had gone all pro) and settles more into the reluctant lullaby feel of his best stuff. Vile likes verses that tumble out like vomit — just this flow of stuff that comes in fits and starts and seems to have little bearing on the music playing behind it. You get that in "Dead Alive," "Freak Train," "Monkey," the title track…pretty much all of it. That rambling, warped feeling is probably his single most distinguishing characteristic.

His music is all about flow. Though it's not always the case, the songs almost always feel less structural than what we typically get. It's lackadaisical and casual. He sings like he knows you, like all of the assumptions that have led up to his every aesthetic and songwriting choice are just accepted fact, no need to speak of them. Being into Kurt Vile feels a bit like being in a club.

This record is not my favorite of his, but it is the single-best representation of who he is as an artist to date. For the past year it's felt inevitable that he would bust out in a big way — his songs are largely accessible, despite my weirdo allegations — but he's also genuinely odd and challenging in a very friendly way.

And so I'd like to close with "Monkey," my favorite song on the record by a long shot. It has that elliptical, unstructured feel, and it's all flow. The melody is simple, repetitive and epic. It reminds me just a tad of Bruce's "Dancer in the Dark," those songs where you get instant nostalgia and satisfying melancholy all at once. Not many people know how to do that, but Kurt's nailed it. Now go download the old stuff.