Kurt Vile is the physical epitome of his own musical style; his eyelids heavy, mouth curled into a semi-smile, wavy hair half way down his back, everything about his look just screams (or should that be mumbles) “slacker”. From the very opening bars of Wakin On A Pretty Daze, it’s blatantly obvious that Kurt Vile is the kind of artist who enjoys a reclined kind of life. Unfussy, clean guitar licks which breathe late morning sunshine on days with a blank agenda; Vile’s lackadaisical delivery sounding half-baked in the herby sense; and sprawling compositions that unfurl in their own good time. Nothing is rushed. Nothing is pushed. There’s always time for another round.
In many ways Kurt Vile is creating music which could be accused of being anachronistic, even unfashionable. Just listen to the crunchy opening chords of the album’s second song ‘KV Crimes’ and you could be mistaken for thinking this is some hark back to AM-friendly 80’s classic rock. In a sense, Waking On A Pretty Daze is firmly rooted in nostalgia, however, this is classic rock for the Instagram generation; a love of “retro” viewed through the hazy, colourful viewfinder of contemporary technology.
Now for a confession. I didn’t really like Kurt Vile’s last album, 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo. I had read a lot about Vile before purchasing that record and thought it would be right up my street. Stoner, psych-rock jams fed through a miasma of reverb and delay, what’s not to like? Well, actually the songs got pretty repetitive, the production wasn’t especially varied, and my biggest bugbear was Vile’s voice. His sleepy snarl was particularly grating to me and I just couldn’t get past it. Vile’s voice hasn’t changed on Wakin On A Pretty Daze, but the musical accompaniment has. Whilst he is apathetic, nasal and sometimes flat, his backing band are sharp, clean and more than capable of knocking out 10 minute jams that kick around the undergrowth looking for ambiguous chord changes and twisting dynamics. This elevation in musical style has lifted Kurt Vile’s vocal delivery from one I previously found difficult to abide, to one which I now grinningly admire.
Wakin On A Pretty Daze hardly shifts from its own self-crafted groove, instead opting to meander through 11 songs of stoner/slacker indie-rock, most of which venture well beyond the 6-7 minute mark, contemplating spending too much time in his own head (a pursuit which has seemingly suited him so far). In fact, the album in general does sound like a telescopic peek into the colourful brain of the creative stoner. Kurt Vile explodes his mind onto the record in a Jackson Pollock-esque kind of way, creating a vibrant image similar to that which graces the album’s front-cover. Apart from the reverb “whoops” on ‘Shame Chamber’ the whole album is pretty placid stuff, rich in texture and quality song-writing. Acoustic guitars ping and buzz, offering warm harmonics that shimmer underneath songs such as ‘Pure Pain’ and ‘Girl Called Alex’, whereas ‘Was All Talk’ writhes over the top of a pre-set electronic dream-beat. ‘Too Hard’ is a touching contemplation of a father and husband promising to take a more relaxed approach to life, reflecting upon the apparent futility of an unfulfilled existence with no one to share it with. The song sprawls across eight minutes without shifting a beat or altering its instrumentation, but it is Vile’s lyricism and sincerity of tone is what makes this a real beauty.
Wakin On A Pretty Daze is surely Kurt Vile’s best album to date, and possibly one of the best albums of the year. This confident young man is strolling along a creative path, peeking in each nook and cranny as he goes, stopping often and pondering the road ahead, the boundaries to his mind appear limitless. 2013 has its first classic.
Released on 8 April 2013 by Matador Records