Question: What do you get when you take equal parts Bob Dylan, Suicide-inspired-Nebraska-era-Bruce-Springsteen, Jay Reatard, Yo La Tengo, No Wave pioneers Mars, Wooden Shjips, and Times New Viking? If you guessed Kurt Vile you either: A) read the top of this review, or B) have a basic grasp on the English rhetorical structure or C) read way too many music reviews. Either way, good for you. However, it doesn’t take a genius to fall head over heels for Kurt Vile (real name, no gimmicks). On one hand Kurt Vile plays straight ahead rock and roll. Recorded cheaply, played loudly over the din of a roadside dive bar, as you, the only one who has even heard of Kurt Vile in Missoula, MT, hug the amplifier closely to drown out the clink of glasses and incessant drunken banter. On the other hand, listening to Childish Prodigy is a pretty cerebral experience. It takes a fair command of our musical past to pick out the hazy, druggy drones inspired by fellow psych-noisemakers Wooden Shjips (inspired by The Velvet Underground), the primitive rhythmic guitar playing of Mars and other No Wave luminaries, as well as the Bob Dylan-like sneer that starts high in the nasal cavity and the Boss’ whoops and caterwauls when he was on that whole Suicide kick.
Phew, that is enough name-dropping for one review. Needless to say, you get what you bring to the table of Philadelphia’s Constant Hit Maker. You want a tough posturing, driving with the windows down, bad-ass summer jam, he’s got those in spades. You want to get lost in a shimmering, hazy guitar drone that is buried under mounds of reverb and analog tape? You have come to the right place, my friend.
Childish Prodigy starts with the monstrous, menacing “Hunchback” that contains some of the most amazing riffs this side of Dungen, as well as Kurt Vile’s paranoid, forced nasally delivery. “You’ve got me floppin’ and flippin’ around like a fish on a ship”, you can almost feel the spit on your face as Kurt forcibly expels these threats/warnings out towards…You? An EX-Lover? Society at large? “Dead Alive” the next song on the album has some of the best Talking-Blues of Bob Dylan or Townes Van Zandt over a reverb soaked single guitar line. “Stop sweatin’ it, and knit me a sweater”. Yes, sir.
The sweet, sun soaked, guitar drones that I promise are featured prominently on “Overnite Religion”, “He’s Alright”, and the instrumental “Goodbye, Freaks”. I know hazy has been an overused adjective, but there is a slightly blurry, bleary, quality to the guitar drones that sound far away; similar to when you are coming out of surgery. These sunny, oscillating drones buoy an album of hard-driving, tough talking songs steeped in the blues and seventies Heavy Metal. “Inside Lookin’ Out” is the most obviously blues influenced ode the ramblers past. It starts out with a Gospel stomp before a heavily processed harmonica makes its entrance. Kurt spares not the shredding of his vocal chords as he howls, “You call it the rumblings/I call it the falling downs/I got the blues so baaaad!” Pretty heavy stuff.
While it may be easy to lump Kurt Vile in with the rest of the Lo-Fi minimalists, Kurt keeps some aces up his sleeve that present themselves with some beautiful where did that come from instrumentation. An amazing saxophone solo is buried under the last half of the songs best track “Freak Train”, trumpets and horns bounce over some delicious descending chords and softly cooed female vocals. Kurt’s voice, which is so painfully naked in most songs, hides some very clever and subtle overdubs and multi-tracking that takes multiple listens to pin-point.
Kurt Vile, Philly’s Constant Hit-maker, does nothing to disappoint on his Matador release. There are few albums in which I can say that every song is killer. It would be a shame if Childish Prodigy is lumped into the either-or category of bands like Times New Viking or Freak-Folk bands like Woods. Kurt Vile is something totally different, if the name dropping in the beginning of the review didn’t tip you off on the type of musical legacy that Kurt is an obvious extension of, a once over of Childish Prodigy will.