Release Date: Apr 9, 2013
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Kurt Vile's sweetly slack fifth LP kicks in with a nine-and-a-half-minute song about taking a walk, hits peak stoner wonder in a song called "Air Bud" and fills in the spaces with trank-darted Dinosaur Jr. licks. But it's no simple story of a wake-and-bake weekday: Vile claims to "never, as they say, touch the stuff," and he's more about fear of abandonment than self-isolation; and even a meditation on the uniqueness of snowflakes has a stormy, rather than syrupy, feel.
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 ….
Kurt VileWakin On A Pretty Daze[Matador; 2013]By Colin Joyce; April 12, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGFor 10 years, Philadelphia native Kurt Vile exploited the smallness in his songwriting process. With the exception of his work with fellow philadelphian psych outfit, The War on Drugs, Vile dealt largely in quiet, often acoustic guitar-led works, heavy on reverb-laden delirium. God Is Saying This To You feels like a memory, recycled lyrics and all; it's the haze of moments long past just barely out of reach.
Plenty of songs capture a decade’s worth of feelings, but Jackson Browne swept up all the dust of the ’70s with his 1978 single, “Running on Empty”. Over hearty piano and jogging percussion, the American singer-songwriter works off emblematic poetry, as he sings: “In ’69 I was twenty-one and I called the road my own / I don’t know when that road turned onto the road I’m on. ” This urge to keep moving and looking forward, despite the roadblocks or consequences, was a prevalent theme of the decade.
The concept of samsara, one of the Buddha's four noble truths, holds that all beings are trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Fueled by internal struggle, we turn along an endless wheel of suffering, passing through untold lives in our never-ending quest for enlightenment. Some meditate upon this truth for years; Kurt Vile, on "Life's a Beach", nailed it for us in two mumbled words: "Life's awhile." Vile's music has exuded this unique stoner-Yoda wisdom from the very beginning, even if you weren't searching for it.
In most photos, he hides his face behind his hair. Long, dark, nappy in the summer months—Kurt Vile’s wavy strands fall like drapes over the edge of his microphone. His beady eyes rarely catch a square gaze with a camera lens, an audience member or an interviewer. Through most of his career, Vile’s voice, too, was but one element of a multi-layered mix; masked.
Upon releasing his last two long players, 2009’s Childish Prodigy and 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile claimed each as something of a “masterpiece.” In their times, these comments hardly seemed out of line, since both stand up as terrific records. But maybe Vile should bite his dawdling tongue in the case of Wakin On A Pretty Daze, having perennially sold his unflappable talent and singular vision short. While topping Smoke Ring outright nearly seemed insurmountable, Daze is (at an impossibly neat 70 minutes) a larger, more diverse and heavier experience.
Review Summary: A record that reads like a book penned from Vile's subconscious.Kurt Vile's meekness is fascinating. See his cameo in Matador Records' promotional video, where he introduces his new track, “Never Run Away,” and pay attention to two things: Vile’s affection for his absolutely adorable daughter, and his discomfort with being documented listening to his own music. It isn’t that he dislikes his work-- rather, he seems to be relatively proud of it as a whole-- but it’s a condition with which all personally-driven songsters seem to be afflicted.
Kurt Vile announced Wakin on a Pretty Daze by mobilizing a team to create a mural on a building in his native Philadelphia—the same mural that appears on the cover of the album along with Vile himself, hands shrugged in his pockets, standing off to the side. It's telling that Vile's album covers—and most of his press photos—don't often make him the focal point of the picture. He doesn't blend into the background, but he's consistently depicted as a part of something much larger and more expansive.
Just a glance at the track lengths of Wakin' on a Pretty Daze reveals which facets of breakthrough Smoke Ring For My Halo Kurt Vile has chosen to focus on for his new LP. The core sound remains intact: the gentle slacker rock and woozy guitar lines with backseat rhythm. But with almost all tracks above the six minute mark, and plenty exceeding ten, it’s clear from the very start that Vile has given himself over to his meandering streak, a penchant only hinted at on the album’s comparatively taught and streamlined predecessor.
Kurt Vile was born and fed to be a working stiff, the kind of old-fashioned man that is kind, committed to a set of values that will subsist for an entire lifetime. His hunched-over posture and raggedy long hair doesn’t necessarily personify that image in the 21st century, but he actually did his share of laborsaving machinery before scoring a deal with Matador records. We don’t hear these kinds of stories as much as we used to, or do they ring with the same resonance – John Prine once vividly detailed getting 50 cents an hour working at a parking lot in Fish and Whistle, Loretta Lynn offered a not-so-rose-colored view of being a working housewife in One’s on the Way, and Uncle Tupelo wrote a bleak ode to the daily grind in Grindstone.
You can always tell a Kurt Vile track when you hear one. He starts with an idea – one simple chord cycle – and plays it over and over, weighed down by reverb, like rings from a drop of water moving out across a pool. On his best songs that restraint creates its own rhythm: ‘He’s Alright’, from 2009’s ‘Childish Prodigy’ did more with four chords on an acoustic guitar than most bands do with four members.
Kurt Vile has been riding the freak train for his entire career, but on 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo, his act got noticeably calmer, his lyrics riddled with non sequiturs, and his sound a hell of a lot more stoned. Wakin on a Pretty Daze, Vile's fifth album, suggests the Philly rocker is well aware of what he's become and what his audience wants from him. He plays various roles throughout the new album: He's a self-described constant hitmaker on the autobiographical “Never Run Away,” singing about a pact between two lovers over a bouncy pop track with a catchy chorus, resulting in the most accessible song Vile's ever recorded, and he plays Neil Young tributary on the Crazy Horse-inspired “KV Crimes,” singing, “I'm ready to claim what's mine,” knowing full well that the sounds he's making aren't his own.
"Making music is easy/ Watch me!" boasts Kurt Vile near the start of his fifth album, and by the end, after 70 minutes of languid, hazy retro-rock, the claim seems pretty convincing. In actuality, Vile is a self-confessed perfectionist who finds it very difficult to complete a song, and the deeper you delve here, the more minor notes you uncover. Male fallibility is put on trial in Shame Chamber, although Vile seems confident, on Too Hard, that he can pull through as a husband and parent.
"Making music is easy, watch me," drawls Kurt Vile, having a wry pop at anyone who "thought I was all talk" in his time as a forklift driver. Now on his fifth album, and following the acclaimed Smoke Ring for My Halo, the songs seem to be flowing with embarrassing ease. Then again, perhaps a lot of craft goes into writing songs that sound so effortless.
1 of 2 2 of 2 KURT VILE plays Fort York on July 7 as part of the Toronto Urban Roots Festival. Rating: NNNN Letting a song drift along on the same languid groove for more than a few minutes can test a listener's patience, but on his new album Philadelphia troubadour Kurt Vile does it over and over again. More than half the 11 songs clock in at six-plus minutes, but none of the extended slow-motion guitar passages feels unnecessarily dragged out.
Philadelphia songsmith Kurt Vile's 2011 album Smoke Ring for My Halo was a definitive shift for the artist away from home-recorded overexposed fuzz pop toward a more sprawling, textural, and most markedly introspective style. The follow-up, fifth album Wakin on a Pretty Daze, continues in this direction, but pushes the changes begun on Halo with even more articulate production, extended exploration in lengthy songs, and even deeper looks inward, if all approached through Vile's one-of-a-kind fog. Beginning with the nine-plus-minute "Wakin on a Pretty Day," the album immediately takes the mantle from its predecessor, offering up wistful interplay between acoustic and electric guitar tones, Vile's dour mumbled vocals, and an overall emotional sense caught somewhere between the hope and promise of youth and the exhaustion of everyday life.
Kurt Vile has never been one to insist on his music, or anything, really. To promote “Never Run Away”, a single from Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, he took out an ad and used it to play the song off his record player, mumbling in the background while it played, chatting idly with his daughter as she waltzed in and out of the room, and smiling at the camera with a sense of open disinterest. Was this really worth it, he read in the viewer’s eyes, but in typical Vile response, it was a question that earned little more than a shrug.
This isn't an album for those with short attention spans. Its 11 tracks stretch across two LPs and last for more than an hour, with many of the songs drawn out by extended guitar jams and lazily drawled verses. The titular opening track doesn't develop much throughout its nine-and-a-half-minute runtime, as laid-back rock rhythms and watery six-string licks stretch endlessly into the distance like a heartland highway.
Of the various objections that fellow TMTer Gabe Vodicka raised over Kurt Vile’s 2011 commercial breakthrough Smoke Ring for My Halo, the one that stood out the most was his dismay over what he perceived as an increasing sense of insularity and self-involvement for Vile, an apparent desire to keep his listeners at arm’s length. Although lacking the kind of audience-baiting lyrics of songs like “On Tour,” that widening sense of aloofness remains on Wakin On A Pretty Daze. Yet what’s interesting is that doesn’t appear to be the artist’s intention.
Affability in the face of gathering darkness: That’s been Kurt Vile’s game-plan all along. In Vile’s sepia-toned universe there’s very little that can’t be smoothed over with a polite nod of the head, a careful quip or the occasional meandering guitar solo. On 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, he wrote a song called “Puppet To The Man,” which you’d think would be about feeling trapped in a dead-end job or in a system that doesn’t respect your individuality; instead, Vile found moments of contentment in the midst of a nullifying bureaucratic hell.
In an interview with AV Club around the release of Childish Prodigy, Kurt Vile explained his work ethic: “It’s like climbing a ladder. I like to climb it really slowly. I could probably get really professional right away, but I like to take baby steps and find my own way”. In this respect, nothing much has changed – Kurt Vile certainly never comes across as a man in a rush.
Americana, and folk music in general, holds few surprises these days, which makes the success of Kurt Vile all the more gratifying. The Philly guitarist's fourth solo disc, 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo, broke him out of the shadows of his former group, the jammy War on Drugs, with lush, rootsy detail and golden tones. On third Matador full-length Wakin on a Pretty Daze, the smoke remains, but sunbeams stream through the curtains.
“The whole general thing is one long daze, and that’s waking up.” If I was feeling particularly lazy, this review could end right there, with Kurt Vile’s own description of his latest album. Because for better or worse, that’s what Wakin On A Pretty Daze is – “one long daze.” It’s a lengthy, woozy jam session held by one of the best strummers in the business today. Vile isn’t revolutionizing music with these songs, nor is he drastically changing his sound.
‘Wakin On A Pretty Daze’ sees the return of Kurt Vile, and after fourth album ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ had the American songwriter lavished with critical acclaim, this year’s offering comes burdened with a level of expectation quite unlike any of his albums before it. Not that you’d know it, as Vile continually layers waves of detachment over all he creates with a well-practiced nonchalance, a veritable lo-fi slacker’s handbook.Opener ‘Wakin’ On A Pretty Day’ proves a suitably hazy introduction to the album, although it has the dubious honour of being one of few opening tracks to ever overstay their welcome. That said, with it clocking in at over 9 minutes that never seemed unlikely.
A man out of time, Kurt Vile is a songwriter in a classic mould. Each release improving on the last, 2008's Constant Hitmaker and 2009's Matador debut Childish Prodigy served to establish two KV constants: a prolific, self aware mythmaker of some confidence, and a devoted student of decades of rock, folk, and noise (a cover of Dim Stars' 'Monkey'? What a dweeb.) But after opening himself up on the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo, there's something amiss on Wakin On A Pretty Daze – he sounds aloof and indirect, as if a few too many diary entries left him exposed. On the early records, Kurt's wandering mind would manifest itself in 90-second sketches of sound, a looped riff and a loose verse later re-used.