Philly-based singer/songwriter Kurt Vile lit up the indie rock radar in 2009 with his cynical, lo-fi, classic rock-meets-N.Y.C. proto-punk Matador debut. Fans of the visceral, D.I.Y. fuzz-folk that dominated Childish Prodigy may be taken aback by the production upgrade on Smoke Ring for My Halo, but the cleaner sound doesn’t mean that the floors aren’t still filthy. Channeling everyone from the Dead to Mellow Gold-era Beck to Lou Reed, Vile comes off as malcontent, but there’s an oddball warmth behind his laconic sneer that echoes the late slacker comedian Mitch Hedberg; for every “I wanna write my whole life down/burn it there to the ground” ("On Tour"), there’s an “If it ain’t workin’, take a whiz on the world” ("Runner Ups"). Sweeter and a little more soulful than Prodigy, Halo leans harder on the urban folk side of Vile's disposition (the album opens with a straight-up love song), but tracks like the churning “Puppet to the Man” and “Society Is My Friend” pick up where Prodigy stompers like “Freak Train” and “Overnight Religion” left off. Vile's guitar work remains predictably strong, especially on the fingerpicked “Peeping Tomboy” and the shimmery title cut, but it’s his efforltess, serpentine melodies and amiable, burnout wisdom that keep the listener so enthralled. In an age where angst is delivered with the subtlety of a laser light show, it’s nice to hear some good, old-fashioned, smokin’-and-drinkin’-cheap-beers-on-the-porch-with-your-friends-style pessimism. [The two-disc, deluxe edition of Smoke Ring for My Halo adds six bonus cuts to the set, including "The Creature", "It's Alright", "Life's a Beach", "Laughing Stock", "Downbound Train" and "(so outta reach)".
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger