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Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy

Released on Matador, 10/6/09

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

The War on Drugs’ guitarist Kurt Vile’s latest offering is hard to classify, but easy to love. Childish Prodigy is immensely impressive and yet rough around the edges. It sounds like it was recorded in someone’s bedroom, but in a good way -- sparse, a bit echoey, deceptively simple.

Sparkling acoustic guitar work on tracks like “Heart Attack” and “He’s Alright” creates nostalgia for the time when musicians were expected to be able to play their instruments properly. “Goodbye Freaks” sounds like Springsteen meets Giorgio Moroder. “Hunchback” nods at New York City’s dark, dirty 70s punk scene. “Freak Train” takes the Springsteen influence and adds some Neil Young. Stylistically Childish Prodigy is all over the place, but somehow it works.

Part of what ties it together is Vile’s voice. For such a baby-faced guy his voice is unexpected -- deep, resonant, melancholy. He sounds oddly world-weary for someone so young, but not in a depressing way; instead call it appropriately cynical. Springsteen is probably the most apt comparison. Childish Prodigy is full of unselfconscious Americana. It’s saturated with subtle little cultural and musical references of past American icons, and in the hands of a less talented artist it all might feel a bit hokey, but with Vile at the helm it’s simply timeless. There’s nothing at all about this album that says 2009, and maybe that’s a good thing.

In a musical landscape that’s increasingly segmented and market-driven, Childish Prodigy is something unexpected -- simple, unpretentious, totally uninterested in current trends. This is an album for people who love music and don’t much care about any of the extraneous trappings that usually come with it. Listen to it in the dark with your headphones on and be glad that someone is still making music like this.