Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile is a man full of contradictions. Quite often Vile appears to be utterly apathetic and unengaged with music or indeed the world in general. Appearances can be very deceptive. In reality, Vile is a musician with a pure love of music and is a master of his craft. It takes someone quite special to make music that is incredibly detailed and nuanced sound quite so easygoing and carefree. There is a hidden depth to much of Kurt Vile’s work that makes him one of US rock’s most fascinating characters.
Wakin On A Pretty Daze continues on a path that Vile embarked on with his first Matador release, 2009’s Childish Prodigy. Vile’s sound has gradually become smoothed out from strung out stoner rock and psychedelia to the lovely folksy melodies and rich melodic flourishes that characterised his last album, 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo. Throughout this development, Vile has lost none of his idiosyncrasies. The 11 songs collected here are all among the very best of his career, enlivened with a vividness and warmth that offers something new with every repeated listen.
A measure of Vile’s confidence can be heard in 10-minute opener, Wakin On A Pretty Day. Its gorgeous, languorous stroll is indicative of the easygoing pace of the album. Vile’s lazy drawl is an excellent accompaniment to the guitar twists that drift by on their own merry way. The effect is akin to a blissful sound that could happily go on forever.
Lyrically, the album is defined by a clarity and sense of intimacy as Vile faces up to the responsibility of fatherhood as a 33-year-old family man. Of course, for an idealistic dreamer like Vile this poses its own doubts and questions. Many songs here, like the yearning Pure Pain, describe the lonely life on the road, and the sacrifices that a touring musician must make. Too Hard sees him imploring himself to eschew any hedonistic desires, before resignedly pondering, “Maybe I’m just human after all.” Both these songs are notable for their beauty. The arrangements, as is the case throughout the record, are wonderful. Pastoral and bucolic finger picked guitar provides a gentle warmth to the latter while the former features a diverting off kilter acoustic riff which is indicitative of Vile’s ability to surprise.
Vile and his band The Violators have added another layer of musicality to his previously lo-fi grungy sound. Synthesisers and expansive sound affects add to the woozy swirling feel of the album. It’s a sound that is familiar but delivered with a crucial touch of strangeness that makes it compelling.
As is always the case with Kurt Vile his lyrics are littered with quotable lines and witty quips that stop even his most introspective songs from becoming dour or dreary. In the loping Girl Called Alex, he proclaims, “I want to live all the time in my fantasy infinity.” If there is any one lyric that can define Kurt Vile then it is this. Elsewhere, the joyously self-loathing Shame Chamber sees him exulting in “feeling bad the best way a man can.”
The way this album flits from childlike wonder to considered reflection stops the album from ever becoming too one paced. It’s a testament to Vile’s songwriting ability that, despite clocking in at over an hour, your attention never once wavers. Providing a fitting counterpoint to the 10-minute opener, the equally long Goldtone is a wondrous closer. All the album’s charms can be heard here. Featuring dreamy organ, slide guitar and a melange of all manner of pretty sounds it is arguably Vile’s finest musical moment. As he sings here: “I might be adrift but I’m still alert.”