“Makin’ music is easy / Watch me” – from “Was All Talk”
The above quote shouldn’t be taken so much as a declaration of self-indulgence but as an externalized and laconic threat. It comes from a track off the new record from Kurt Vile, who sort of came out of the lo-fi underground with his fourth LP, 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, and whose formation into one of indie folk’s greatest singer/songwriters wouldn’t have happened had it not been for his previous and hard-earned pursuits. Vile hasn’t necessarily had it rough over the course of these past four records, but the guy’s talents were far too fruitful not to be heard, and the warning he gives is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly by his artistic peers.
That’s because his latest studio recording, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, is an epic album. I could use all the positive adjectives in the English language to describe various parts of it, and my review would still be considered understated. The beauty of this record is beyond its years, both past and present. Wakin On A Pretty Daze is an effortless record in which Kurt Vile no longer seems to feel the need to prove himself, and yet he still channels the best of his songcrafting abilities to create 69-minutes of material in the vein of some of the best folk/roots rock efforts released in the last thirty years.
Photos by: Shawn Brackbill
The opening track, “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” sums everything up nicely, immediately getting right into the hazy and absorbing atmospherics that Vile has utilized since his earlier records. The trick of the track, however, is the moment when it hits close to the five-minute mark, when Vile almost drops the singer/songwriter label and becomes a full-on composer, switching to a musical movement that’s decidedly more upbeat and involving. It’s mostly instrumental and within the same tonal realm from this point forward, but the alternating movements keep listeners in a state of readiness and certainly wanting more. The track reaches almost the 10-minute mark without ever feeling like it took too long to get there.
“Wakin On A Pretty Day” is a supremely appealing track. It mixes Vile’s warm and always alluring guitar textures with a structural precision, proving his immense talents as a songwriter and justifying the song’s run time. Unlike the recent Justin Timberlake record, The 20/20 Experience, whose tracks were of extended lengths for the sake of being extended lengths, Kurt Vile creates a situation in which we want to linger on each track by blissfully testing the waters with unique patterns and creative constructions that blend well with his soft-spoken lyricism.
This sentiment remains true for the rest of the record, whose sprawl settles track by track for a surprisingly wonderful flow. Leaner songs such as “Never Run Away” still have as much charm and depth as slow-burns such as “Gold Tone,” which closes the album. Even when there are hints of Vile traveling into ’80s New Wave territory (“Was All Talk”) or quirky indie rock (“Air Bud”), he manages to harness a naturalness that brings it all back to the guitar-centric folk/roots rock core, resulting in a refreshingly original and fully-realized “album” in every sense of the word.
Vile himself also proves again on Wakin On A Pretty Daze to be a stellar lyricist and a singer, embodying his Tom Petty and Dylanesque influences. There’s a sense of fellowship between Vile and these influences on the tracks “Too Hard” and “Snowflakes Are Dancing,” with his vocal accents reflecting his internal lyrical examinations.
This is one of those records that I wish I could listen to again for the very first time, just so I can recapture that initial feeling, but it is also the kind of record that can be listened to from beginning to end without a whimper, anytime and anywhere. It’s a summation of everything Vile did before and yet so utterly vast and different from its predecessors in execution that the album comes across as an overwhelmingly major effort on the heels of a much-needed artistic breakthrough.
This is Kurt Vile in peak song-crafting form, but he never sounds like he’s trying too hard. At this point in his short but storied solo career, Vile doesn’t require any more time to experiment with his sound. Wakin On A Pretty Daze is his masterwork, one of the best albums you’ll hear all year or any year, and it will leave you breathless, no matter which numbered spin you’re on.
Kurt Vile and The Violators Tour Dates:
4/12 – San Diego, CA – The Casbah
4/14 – Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival ***SOLD OUT
4/21 – Indio, CA – Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival ***SOLD OUT
5/05 – Atlanta, GA – Shaky Knees Festival
5/07 – Los Angeles, LA – Echoplex
5/08 – San Francisco, CA – Independent
5/10 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir
5/11 – Vancouver, BC – Biltmore
5/12 – Seattle, WA – Neumos
5/14 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
5/16 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom ***SOLD OUT
5/17 – Boston, MA – The Sinclair
5/18 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
7/04 – Toronto, ON Toronto – Urban Roots Festival
7/05 – Toronto, ON Toronto – Urban Roots Festival
7/06 – Toronto, ON Toronto – Urban Roots Festival
7/07 – Toronto, ON Toronto – Urban Roots Festival
7/12 – Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival
7/13 – Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival
7/14 – Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival
8/02 – Happy Valley, OR – Pickathon
8/03 – Happy Valley, OR – Pickathon
8/04 – Happy Valley, OR – Pickathon
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