When Kurt Vile sings “Baby’s Arms,” a song about the contentment and feeling of safety that comes from the closeness of a loved one, you can tell that he has experienced this emotion whether he is actually singing about himself or not. The song is not overwrought with feelings, but Vile has a talent for subtly becoming the characters he sings about.

On “Puppet to the Man,” Vile takes on the persona of a minion in denial, delivering lyrics with a slightly sneering, I-couldn’t-care-less-what-you-think deadpan style that recalls Lou Reed in his days with the Velvet Underground. There’s a weariness and a wariness, enhanced by a lonesome picker-style of acoustic guitar playing, that informs much of this album; the happy camper that inhabits “Baby’s Arms” is missing in action by mid-album and “Runners Up” where Vile sings somewhat disgustedly of someone whose “best friend is long gone” but who still has a second string of apparently not-too-much cared-for acquaintances. For the most part, Smoke Ring for My Halo is not joyful music but then again, as they say, misery loves company.

Grade: B



Smoke Ring for My Halo is currently available.