Oh boy did I need Kurt Vile in my life. This second album couldn't have landed at a better time. With the beleaguered lo-fi scene experiencing something of a wind-down, Childish Prodigy stands proud as a more muscular sound but one that still maintains the ethos of the DIY scene. You couldn't really call this lo-fi with production as tight as this but there is a trail of fuzz that follows Vile's every word throughout the record. It's ragged and loose in its construction but is full of new ideas and blows a fresh and welcome breeze through this scene.
Growing up just outside of Philidelphia, Vile's love for music stemmed from his bluegrass aficionado father who also gifted him with a banjo at the age of fourteen. From this grew an absorption of everything musical which started to manifest itself in the form of a series of lo-fi bedroom recordings that incorporated everything from delta blues and skiffle to the minimalist aggression of bands like Suicide. With a number of releases on various labels Vile's free-flow style and signature languid drawl started to win him quite an underground following. Childish Prodigy is Vile's second album but first for Matador and while it retains much of the magic that pricked up ears years ago it is a much more diverse concoction of scuzz-rock and psychedelic folk and is enhanced hugely by the production of Philly engineer Jeff Zeigler. His touch turns this lo-fi sound into something deeper and more substantial while still drenching everything in feedback and echo.
The dirty blues-rock of opener Hunchback booms with muscle while the following Dead Alive is a simple construction of delicate guitar and vocals which are drowned in hazy fuzz. Like many of these songs it meanders almost without direction with Vile's casual style emanating as a stream-of-conciousness outpouring. Then you've got the mammoth Freak Train and Inside Looking Out which both stretch to around the seven minute mark. Freak Train assumes a brisk Krautrock pace and keeps with it until the fade-out. It's like taking the turning onto the M6 Toll and seeing only open road in front of you. Like the Toll it's long, open and you really don't mind paying for it. While Inside Looking Out is slow and aimless and plods on relentlessly. It's cavernous and dirty, it's claustrophobic and overflowing with effects with Vile hitting the red-line with his shrieked vocals. Then in total contrast you get the following track Unknown which shines in its simplicity. It's just Vile and an acoustic guitar and a bucket load of reverb. It recalls early U2 in the way it paints vivid sonic landscapes with the fewest of brushstrokes. The music undulates on waves of guitar for four and a half minutes of pure bliss. And it's in this contrast that the beauty of this record resides. You can get a whiff of John Lennon then be seduced by the intimacy of Springsteen's Nebraska-like minimalism. It demands patience from the listener though but this patience will be rewarded. His effortless style puts up a mask of simplicity but get this on some headphones and this apparent simplicity reveals untold depths and the songs just stretch out in front of you.