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Preview: Rethinking Kurt Vile

In Music

Rock critics have been obsessed with Kurt Vile’s supposed “trad-rock” sound, constantly comparing him to classic rock icons like Springsteen. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt to be spoken of in the same breath as the Boss, and certainly he’s one of the Philadelphia musician’s many musical heroes. But I think this is a tragic case of confusing an artist’s influences with his art.

Listening to Vile’s latest, Smoke Ring For My Halo, I hear the low-fi indie-rock of contemporaries like Yo La Tengo (who, don’t forget, love them some retro rock) and Beck. Vile has a personal, intimate way of delivering a song that is miles from the big, poppy sound of FM radio heroes past, and Springsteen’s worldwide-sized anthems.

Yes, Nebraska is the obvious exception, but Vile’s sound doesn’t have that reductive starkness, either. On the contrary, I’d say he’s completely of his time, the epitome of the forward-looking 21st century singer-songwriter: patching together a unique and remarkable pastiche-rock sound under slightly numbed but still emotional lyrics about the state of his world today. Let’s leave the Springsteen comparisons with Gaslight Anthem, shall we?

Kurt Vile plays the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on Wed, Jun 6, 8:30pm; $15/$17.

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