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Album Review
Wakin' On A Pretty Daze

Wakin' On A Pretty Daze
by Kurt Vile

Matador Records

Review Date
23 April 2013
Reviewed by
Louisa Kasza

Fans of Kurt Vile won’t be too surprised to learn that his new album is introspective and nostalgic. Following on the very successful heels of 2011’s critically acclaimed Smoke Ring for my Halo, the new album has all the traits that garnered Vile a cult following, with just enough variation to keep it interesting. A smart guy like Vile doesn’t need gimmicks or buzzworthy instruments to keep his fans interested, or to garner new ones – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze provides as good an entry into Vile’s work as any of his previous albums.

For a laidback dude, Vile seems set on defying just about every expectation he runs into. Dragging alt-country flourishes like slide guitar, mid-death rattle, into the 2010s, Vile defines his own “cool”. Just when the stoner community was set to claim him as their own, Vile cautions “sometimes when I get in my zone / you’d think I was stoned / but I never as they say, touch the stuff” – a claim that yes, has been since defended by Vile himself. And you would be unwise not to pay attention to his irreverent sense of humour that tempers his darker songs. There’s even the odd dad joke – such as calling Moon Duo “space partners”.

“Dad joke” is apt, as – while Vile claims there is no theme to the album – there is a prevailing tension throughout between Vile’s muso career and his commitment to his young family, both of which he takes very, very seriously. In the jarring ‘Pure Pain’, abrupt switches of tempo and style between verses - from raw yearning to the kind of hypnotic dreaminess associated with too much time on the road - reflect on the time away from home, while ‘Too Hard’, a father’s sentimental litany of promises to his daughter, shows the opposite issue of reconciling a musician’s vices with family life. Vile isn’t unaware of the uniqueness of his long-standing marriage and proud family man status, as evidenced in single ‘Never Run Away’, a love song sung in defiance of “others / who would run rather away”.

Defiance is no small part of the album either, although often with tongue firmly in check. ‘All Talk’ pairs a laidback guitar-picking melody with an electronic beat that sounds like the pitter-patter of an anxious heart. This is well matched with Vile’s metaphorical two-finger salute to his detractors, underpinned by a mocking self-referentiality in such lines as “making music is easy: / watch me”. This is picked up again in the sassy and irreverent ‘Shame Chamber’.

However, it just wouldn’t be a Kurt Vile album without a little mystery and from beginning to end, our expectations are subverted. The straight-up alt-country intro (of which Wilco might be proud) to title track “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” soon devolves into Springsteen-esque eighties reverb, during which almost ten minutes have passed (it’s a sneakily long song). The haunting ‘Girl Called Alex’ poses its own mystery story, harnessing creepy organ-like keys along the way, and showcases one of Vile’s greatest strengths – the cheese-less guitar solo, so natural and unobtrusive as to seem indispensable. The eerie and introverted sleeper tracks “Snowflakes are Dancing”, “Air Bud” and “Goldtone” are also not be missed.

I could go on. Picking up where such eccentric greats as Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. left off (ok, ok – Dinosaur Jr. are still around), Kurt Vile – along with other vanguards such as Mac DeMarco – is making guitar music respectable again while, as always, marching very much to the beat of his own drum.


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