Eyes slowly open. Note the surroundings; a ragged old couch with a quilted sheet covering the base, half-open windows hidden by broken blinds, a filthy glass submersed in aged tabloids. It is not elegant, but it is comfortable. All of the comfort of springtime, possibly a Sunday afternoon in late April or early May, is that all-encompassing feeling. A breeze passes through the window and resonates on the surface of a tall glass filled with iced tea. It has been a truly long and stressful week, and as eyes slowly close and open again. This is the very meaning of “the day of rest”; Smoke Ring For My Halo is the soundtrack.
Allow the cleverly-named Kurt Vile to serve as a personal Sunday afternoon guide. Another album of vintage influence? Is the year in fact 2011? Of course the initial listening experience will be grounded in all of those comparisons; Lou Reed-like vocals, music that often recalls the gentler side of early classic, garage, and alternative rock, and the retro sound production that has become almost commonplace in the world of independent music. It may even feel like the album has been heard before, by brief sonic description alone.
Take a deep breath and enjoy the glass of iced tea. Do not let the stress of an objectively logical listen discourage. Music is meant to be an emotional experience. Allow the distinct guitar textures to fill the room on the weightless breeze that still blows. The afternoon has just begun.
After lazily reclining on the couch, it is time for a cruise down the interstate. The tank has just been filled and the world is a vibrant green. Even if that is not the case, it does not matter; the mind is smoothly wrapped around a sweet, driving romance. “I hide in my baby’s arms.”
The sensation continues seamlessly into “Jesus Fever”, and the weather is still fantastic. As the car stereo’s volume is turned up to appreciate the heavier classic-rock edge of “Puppet to the Man”, the listener notices some grey clouds on the horizon. No matter, it is just a bit of rain and the focus extends simply to the rhythm of it all at this point. Everything is going well on this particular Sunday afternoon. A stroll through the park with an old acquaintance to the pentatonic quality of “Society is My Friend” is followed by a dazed recognition of the hypnotic guitar that permeates “Runner Ups.” Optimism falters for a brief moment; the dejected lyricism of “Peeping Tomboy” serves as the self-conscious debris under the silver lining of a pleasant spring day. “I don’t want to give up, but I kind of want to lie down, but not sleep, just rest. Give me a break, how much does it really take?”
Hours pass slowly by in an understated bliss, and the chilled winds of the title track’s minimal guitar solo provide another welcome breeze. “Ghost Town” indicates the departure. Afternoon segues into evening, which segues into night. Soon enough, it is time for bed, and time to greet the next working week in a gentle acoustic coda. Eyes slowly close in textured harmony.
As the album progresses, the listener will never lose sight of reality entirely. There will always be an inherent understanding that the simple joy of a Sunday afternoon in spring cannot last forever. When one lets Smoke Ring For My Halo serve as the soundtrack, the strength of the memory can only be matched by the strength of the guitar work.