Saturday, 18 May 2013

Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze Album Review (2013)

When Kurt Vile left The War On Drugs in 2008, a great music collaboration ended. Vile was already a solo artist (of sorts) and his backing band The Violators continued with The War On Drugs co-founder and front-man Adam Granduciel still on board. Granduciel left The Violators in 2011 and went on make one of the finest albums in the last decade, Slave Ambient, as Vile blitzed through four solo albums, with mixed results. So now, on his fifth attempt to make a solid, coherent and engaging work, Kurt Vile and Wakin On A Pretty Daze have finally delivered.

Vile has always been a free and liberated musician, blending styles and moods with seemingly incoherent abandon but he has yet to do this with such elegance. Wakin On A Pretty Daze opens with the cool sublime nine-and-a-half minute, sleek, sun-kissed guitar-led epic Wakin On A Pretty Day, with Vile musing on thoughts and observations like a philosophical stoner. 'To be frank, I'm fried...but I...don't mind', he sings before drifting off into a series of uninspired, yet entirely appropriate, 'yeah yeah yeahs'. As the song enters a fourth minute it's difficult to know where it could go. One wonderful guitar solo later and Vile is back with more of the same with additional random empty lyrics. Yet the effect is mesmerising and sublime, as another swathe of swirling guitars drives the song on into its last minute like the eighteenth minute of a classic Neil Young And Crazy Horse adventure.

KV Crimes opens with a blistering guitar riff before Vile starts the tale of self-analysis. The chorus, while not the most inspired, is wonderfully structured around a laid-back delivery: 'Well, right...what now? It's fine. I think I'm ready, to claim what's mine, rightfully, yeah...'. Vile's voice is not so much of a clear and concise storyteller but it's an incredible instrument, to compliment more supreme guitar work. To complete an impressive opening trio, Was All Talk is another highlight, with injected pace and energy. Vile, again, is examining his own life and achievements: 'There was a time in my life when they thought I was all talk' he claims dismissively and then later 'Making music is me!' before repeating the aforementioned accusation, all framed with psychedelic swampy guitars. Vile is not scared of letting the music run and go where he feels it should, as the outro hurtles into an eighth minute.

The mid-tempo Girl Called Alex rolls lazily through its six minutes, occasionally lifted by some neat guitar-work from Jesse Trbovich and organ from Vile. It's not quite a weak point but feels more like an interlude between the first part of the album and what is to come. This leads into Never Run Away and the closest Wakin On A Pretty Daze comes to producing a three-minute pop song while being utterly unique and odd. Vile simply fuses empty lyrics with repetitions of the song's title. Pure Pain echoes Pavement covering The Pixies, a modern proto-punk stomp, before changing completely, only to return later in the third minute. It's a brief re-visit as the song drifts again into a series of delicious guitar loops. And another huge eight minutes produces Too Hard, with Vile at his most heartfelt and honest: 'I will promise not to smoke too much. I will promise not to party...too hard...too hard...It's too hard', he sings before the profound 'Life is like a ball of beauty that makes you wanna just cry...then you die...'. Again, the guitars shine with added hope to Vile's inward, self-deflating lyrics. This is a great example of a song drawn thin with over-extended lyrics and wide-open instrumentation.

Shame Chamber is another brilliant pop song, more ego-bashing and catharsis set to a playful soundtrack, complete with maddening 'woops'. This begins an impressive end to a great album. Snowflakes Are Dancing is the late high-point with Vile on top form, the music blending perfectly into a swirling mass of guitars, percussion and voice. The quality continues with Air Bud, which could easily be The War On Drugs doing an acoustic set. And as if the album needed a big finish, Goldtone is a final ten minutes of icing on a massive cake. Opening lyrically with 'Sometimes when I get in my zone, you'd think I was stoned...but I never, as they say, touch the stuff. I might be adrift, but I'm still alert, concentrating my hurt into a gold tone...'. This is an album in one song, an autobiographical account of a musical journey, with more sublime musical moments: layers of guitars, sweet backing vocals and harmonies. Into the ninth minute and the music rises to a mini final crescendo.

Wakin On A Pretty Daze is one of the most interesting albums of the year and is set to remain so. Vile's unique and unstructured approach and delivery makes it sound as if this is the product of a series of experimental, improvised and shambolic jam sessions. This may be the case but it captures Vile (and The Violators) at their most creative and consistent, yielding a huge album that drifts in and out of ideas and themes; at times drawn-out and threatening to lose focus, but rightfully so. The open spaces, protracted sequences of guitars and often thin lyrics add to the overall feel and charm and create the right atmosphere. This is Kurt Vile's most ambitious and ultimately rewarding album: huge, expansive and, above all, enjoyable.
-- CS

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