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Kurt Vile
Childish Prodigy Noel Gardner , October 14th, 2009 12:46

Matador Records, who release the third album — and the first to be easily obtainable — from Philadelphia's Kurt Vile, have at all points in their ascent to becoming one of the biggest independent rock labels had an attentive grasp of what's cookin' in the underground. In the last couple of years, however, they've really stepped up their efforts to herd some prize pigs out of the punk pen of limited seven-inches and into a position of (indie-centric) recognition. Fucked Up, Times New Viking and Jay Reatard have all willingly acceded to this most generous offer, and their latest snag is Kurt Vile: a fella with a punk rock name for a real name (so they keep saying; I never heard of anyone with this surname before, but I want to believe, y'know?) whose previous output came out on micro-operation labels like Gulcher and Skulltones. He was also formerly in a woozy indie-rock affair called The War On Drugs who released an album on Secretly Canadian last year.

Long story short, Kurt Vile is pretty punk rock, but kinda not. Childish Prodigy has one foot fondling the leg of Seventies FM-rock anthemia, the other nailed to the ground of hissy American lo-fi. There are certain parallels with the quasi-conscious psychedelic lucidity of Ariel Pink to this end, but none of the eleven tracks here really sound much like him. The opening 'Hunchback' is consummate 70s-styled burnout rock from someone who, we can safely assume, is an earnest student of the craft. Riffs drag themselves forward like the shifting gears of a knackered car pootling uphill; bar-rock piano clangs along and you'd be forgiven for thinking of a slightly less demented Royal Trux. Does that miss the point of listening to Royal Trux? Probably for some, but it's Childish Prodigy's first indication that the dude can actually write a song.

Across 49 minutes, Vile cultivates his own musical personality while sifting through some gold-plated record boxes. 'Dead Alive' fizzes with fuzz, sounding like the result of a preteen afternoon spent with a parental LP collection and a knackered boombox. The singer's words, slathered in echo, carry the crypto-rockabilly twang of Suicide's Alan Vega, while musically it's a percussion-free rush of psychedelic electric folk (this is revisited for the splendid 'Heart Attack', which sounds like it should be complemented with chewed-up camcorder footage of a waterfall). 'Freak Train' is another piano-propelled thudder of great heart; at this stage in the game, interpreting Springsteenian bombast in this rusted-up manner is surely preferable to the near-fawning reverence of bands like The Hold Steady and Lucero. 'Amplifier' has celebratory brass parts and training-bra My Bloody Valentine processed vocal FX, a curveball that pays dividends.

Childish Prodigy is, at this point, a mere promising step rather than a Great Album. For all that many of his songs have elements that show great verve and innovation, not that much actually lodges in the brain. 'Monkey', a cover of a song by the Thurston Moore/Richard Hell one-off band Dim Stars, is only really notable for the fact someone in 2009 has covered a Dim Stars song; 'Goodbye Freaks', one of two supposed bonus tracks here, is a willfully throwaway manner in which to end the album (rudimentary drum machine, wheezing synth, no vocals). It's nice, kind of essential, to have people like Kurt Vile around, though. Outsider Music advancing closer and closer to the inner sanctum with no lanyard; sufficiently enamoured of classic rock to want to put the wind up those who would preserve it in amber.