As he is

Kurt Vile plays it straight
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  July 5, 2011

Kurt Vile
PHILLY SOUL In Boston, Vile drove a forklift while cultivating an appreciation for John Fahey and Brian Eno and consorting with Emerson undergrads.

For all the defiant, anguished fists we shake in the general direction of New York and Los Angeles whenever a musician becomes way more famous after they leave Boston, perhaps this city's gypsy-attracting disposition has advantages. 

Consider Kurt Vile — rolling into the Brighton Music Hall with his band of Violators for the second time in four months this Monday. For a few years in the early aughts, the now 31-year-old balladeer drove a forklift to cover expenses and cultivated an appreciation for John Fahey and Brian Eno while consorting with Emerson undergrads. The scenery and ambiance of a Boston air freight company inspired "Space Forklift" off 2008's Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher), and it was in our metropolis that he first distributed CD-R demos under his own name in 2001. (And that is his name — between his family name and the one they gave him, his parents must have anticipated his eventual career path.)

Though the majority of the definitive Vile biography (to be written by a yet-to-be-named author at a yet-to-be-determined point in the future) takes place in Philadelphia or in the myriad cities of his disparate tour stops du jour, Boston gets its own chapter. So when Vile does awesome shit like open for Sonic Youth or J Mascis, it's not a local-boy-makes-good scenario, but it is a formerly-and-briefly-local-boy-makes-good scenario.

"I wasn't going to school, but I was the same age [as college kids]," reminisces Vile. "It was funny. I was this mysterious blue-collar type, but I guess I got the college experience, conveniently, by going to Boston." Vile is speaking to me from somewhere in Philly, where he's enjoying a cigarette and Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, the spine of which he's finally gotten around to cracking after leaving it neglected on the shelf for ages.

"Usually I'll read about somebody who was one of the greats," he says, regarding his fondness for rock biographies. "Obviously Kurt Cobain was one. Springsteen. Dylan. Hank Williams. Neil Young. I like to find out their stories, and I usually end up listening to nothing but their music for a while. It makes their music more like virtual reality, 'cause you know everything that was going on [at the time]."

To varying degrees, Vile's sound is informed by that entire illustrious lot, yet he's a far cry from a rehasher. Murmuring, "I don't want to change, but I don't want to stay the same," on the piquant "Peeping Tomboy" from Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador), Vile tidily sums up his own music . . . albeit almost certainly while referring to something else entirely.

Not to disparage all his previous material, but history shall pronounce records like ConstantHitmaker and 2009's Childish Prodigy (Matador) as omens of the meditative, hassle-free excellence to come on Smoke Ring. At the risk of hyperbolizing, if Smoke Ring doesn't find a place on your personal "Best Rock Albums of 2011" list, you are probably some sort of awful shithead with shitty taste in music. Exquisitely layered acoustic guitars administer daydream-inducing standouts like "Jesus Fever" and "Society Is My Friend," as Vile intones sheer slacker-chill. It almost doesn't seem fair that anyone could write such an amazing record without appearing to strain themselves.

"I just, y'know, come from the heart," he explains. "More heart, less head. I've tried to force songs, but when you think too much and analyze every word, those songs aren't as good as the ones that come out fast."

KURT VILE AND THE VIOLATORSWOODS + ARC IN ROUND | Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave., Allston | July 11 @ 9 pm | 18+ | $15 | 617.779.0140

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