Childish Prodigy, the third album by Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile in the past two years, continues the artist’s outward spread through the strata of whatever constitutes a listening public in this day and age. With said albums, a handful of singles, an EP with full band (known as the Violators, who also appear here), and splits, and CD-Rs that have informed the content of both this album and his last (God is Saying This to You…, out for a few hours on Mexican Summer), Vile’s been lumped in with a movement of artists in the lower rungs of fidelity (Thee Oh Sees, Blank Dogs) and labels (Woodsist, Captured Tracks) that have found it best to carpet bomb a shrinking marketplace with every last scrap of recorded material per year – and for the casual fan who’s not zeroed in on music down at the atomic level, one of these records should be as good as any of the others. In this case, they’d be wrong, but how important is it to know, really?
A few things have changed. Vile’s joined in a handful of tracks by one or all of the Violators, and has found one of the strongest sidemen around in guitarist and reedsman Jesse Trbovich. These are the ones that offer a too-brief peek into where Vile could/should go next. Opener “Hunchback,” in a denser mix than on its Richie Records’ EP from earlier this year, hammers on a two-chord blues white knuckler that leaves splinters in the gums. And just as much as he wants to be your dog, Vile would prefer to be your “Monkey” as well, as originally told by long-ago NYC supergroup Dim Stars (Thurston and Steve, Richard Hell and Don Fleming). The heavily-reverb’d piano and aching, dissonant delivery recalls the suspenders and varsity sweaters of a band like the Walkmen. The seven-minute “Freak Train” fires up the drum machine against curtains of keyboard and a blazing saxophone solo. This is rounded out by some Akai Headrush pedal abuse, as Vile goes electric, putting down the atmosphere of his earlier, acoustic offerings with a load of treatment and little improvement over the earlier model. The plangent, careful delivery and knowing tones of “Overnite Religion” proves to be the strongest of these new songs.
Yet again, the music is what stands out. Vile has no problem bringing any of his talents across – steady-handed, Appalachian-inflected psychfolk reels, doe-eyed wisecracker vocalese – and since it’s likely the first record of his that a wider audience will embrace, they won’t hear the terrain he’s covered (and better, for that matter).
I love this guy, and Constant Hitmaker was a record I’d go on to listen to so many times, when so many others were readily available. With the shift in seasons, the necessary cooling of the climate bringing this rough year towards a hopefully placid end, Childish Prodigy has been climbing up my spine in similar ways. Hitmaker was for the summer, so the increasing darkness and volatility in Prodigy serves as a primer for the chill winds and gray skies; the new new romanticism, post-industrialist and forlorn. What it leaves to the imagination – really, what this guy could do once he successfully integrates his band for a full-length, and takes advantage of the resources available to him via Matador – could make him one of the most important hometapers of this decade.