Kurt Vile, Childish Prodigy
Some musicians take a while to get revved up, polishing their songs and performance until they reveal their art to the world. Philadelphian Kurt Vile has hedged his bets a bit since 2003, issuing self-released CD-Rs—the Hunchback EP (2009), mini-LP God Is Saying This To You (2009) and finally the full-length Constant Hitmaker (2007, reissued 2009)—but his new album Childish Prodigy feels like his first earnest attempt at a comprehensive collection of material. It’s ironic, given that his early CD-Rs are good enough to be treated as legitimate releases rather than demos.
He’s made a big splash with a brief resume, most notably signing to Matador, arguably the utmost standard bearer of indie-rock. Also remarkable, each song on Childish presents a slightly different sound. It’s pointless to note the apparent influences, but the common denominators are a rhythm that won’t relent, rough around the corners production values and above all else, his voice. You can hear hints of other great rock singers, but one that hasn’t been cited is that other Kurt, Cobain; Vile exhibits the release without the pain. It’s hard to pinpoint; his musical identity is still being formed, but a touchstone is his cover of “Monkey” by Dim Star, the late ’80s side project including Thurston Moore and Richard Hell, their one release as haunted and haunting as it was in your face. Vile isn’t conjuring up ghosts, but evoking the specter of what rock music can be, momentous yet not meaning anything beyond the moment, or needing to. (Matador)
Vampire Weekend, Contra
Vampire Weekend’s new record is one big party, from the opening Latin/South African-influenced marimba rhythm on the first track, “Horchata.” As its title suggests, though, the light mood masks dark rumblings of conflict down to the geopolitical level. They mostly smolder under the surface without rising to a climax, and that makes their music lack a certain tension that robs it of having much impact. Vampire Weekend’s second LP isn’t a sophomore slump so much as an exercise in frivolity—the summer after school’s out; a diversion without much depth.
“Diplomat’s Son” and “I Think UR a Contra” hint at the subterfuge originally depicted in novels like Graham Greene’s The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana, while “California English” comments on Reagan era valley girls’ native tongue. The album packs a lot into 37 minutes, and that can be good or bad, depending on how well you have coordinated your wardrobe for this artificially sunny musical climate. (XL Recordings)