Many would argue that at the age of twenty-nine, Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile would be far too old to be releasing his debut album ‘Childish Prodigy’. In the grand scheme of things, many of rock music’s luminaries had already orchestrated their way into the audio history books by the age of seventy-seven, living fast and young in an industry that tormented their talents with free venture and loose virtues, leaving them with little but histrionic epitaphs in their wake. However, times have changed, and in recent we have seen the likes of The Boss nuzzle agedly at the businesses fortifying breast with moneymaking reunions and Johnny Rotten visually curdling any credibility he arguably had with butter adverts.
Vile, however, is not new to the music scene, but instead one of its best-kept secrets and scholars. Starting out his career as lead guitarist of Philly-based The War On Drugs in 2005, he went on to release a number of bedroom recordings in the form of 2008’s ‘Constant Hitmaker’ and ‘God Is Saying This To You’ on home grown label to quietly prolific commendations. These low-key, beautifully unfettered releases fizzed with the ambient warmth of an artist with integrity, causing enough of a buzz for Matador to sign and unearth him from his shaded underground circles.
And from this great excavation we see a self-confessed musical sponge draw influence from the wells of washed-out legacies in the form of delta blues, alternative Americana and protopunk to form a beguiling, sedulous record that demands – like many of the bellwethers that it often echoes – attention from its opening four bars. “Hunchback” unlocks the album with a heavy lo-fi aesthetic of guitar feedback, pummelling drums and rudimentary keys that parallel that of Iggy Pop’s mesmerising “I Wanna Be Your Dog”; to the saturated in reverb and the most delectable of pinch harmonic loops, “Dead Alive” sounds like The Stones circa their psychedelic escapades; to the thoughtful builds of the chugging Springsteen-esque “Freak Train”; and a cover of Dim Star’s “Monkey” all together act as testament to the idiosyncratic and antiquated sound which Vile reflects upon.
However, this is not to say that Vile’s work is a reference point and rehash of such bygone eras, instead ‘Childish Prodigy’ is a truly absorbing listen that has been scripted in a manner that he can call his own: the touching and frayed charms of “Overnight Religion” and “Blackberry Song”, folk dirges that are layered with his sonorous vocal, sit contemplatively between the haze and fuzz of a record that is a truly natural and earnest effort.
Vile may be guilty of exhuming a desirable array of legends as inspiration for his record, but the length and depth he goes to in forming his own signature sound results in something assiduous, permeating and innovative in its own right. Something that must be extolled and listened to on its own graces.