Kurt Vile: Square Shells EP

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Kurt Vile
Square Shells EP
(Matador)

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I had the opportunity to see Kurt Vile not too terribly long ago when he was playing at a bar I was working at. I was pretty pumped. I served him a beer and was ready for the show. Then I was sent upstairs to work the door and missed the entire thing. That said, I did eventually get around to obtaining a copy of his Childish Prodigy LP (still can’t decided if that’s the lamest title of all time) and have been enjoying it since.

His next effort, the Small Shells EP, sounds similar to Childish Prodigy (hereafter referred to as CP), but it’s just not quite as good. First, each song starts with a stellar opener: CP’s raucous “Hunchback” and Small Shells’s melodic “Ocean City.” Both are great first tracks, but also misleading and a bit mis-representative of the rest of the album—not that there needs to be a cohesive theme, but they both subsequently veer into the instrumental realm (small shells in particular seems to have a pulse to it that ebbs and flows with each successive song). Following “Ocean City” is “Invisibility: Nonexistent”: a fickerpicked number that’s enlarged with nice effects and a melancholic melody that ambles nicely to a somber tone. In fact, each consecutive song seems to slow the album’s pace, creating a pretty subdued, atmospheric mood, until it’s broken, that is, with the more upbeat, yet introspective Bright Eyes-esque, “I know I Got Religion”: spoken word-style singing and pick-less guitar strumming. It’s a pretty good jam until his lyrics start to run into ick territory with phrases such as, “When I’m blue, I’ll write a strummer for you.” That’s just me being a stickler for cliché, I guess. But, again, after this relative high point it’s back to the downer-ish material.

All in all, it’s a decent lo-fi album that’s jacked up with effects to give it an ethereal quality that more or less works. Personally I prefer the acoustic numbers because they demonstrate his ability to write straight, catchy pop tunes, and I think that overall it could use a couple more rockers like “Hunchback” from CP, and/or just some generally upbeat tunes, but, he wrote it and not me, so what can you do. Pick it up if you’re into the DIY Brooklyn scene and want to catch a relatively new sorta-hot thing.

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