Archives for the month of: April, 2013

Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile has always seemed like the sort of guy that would get a kick out of having an album that he could call his own Blonde on Blonde or Exile on Main St., and luckily for him he’s at the perfect time in his career to go big. Wakin On a Pretty Daze is his first release that a significant amount of people are waiting for, after 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo acted as his sort-of-breakout. That album felt like the culmination of all of his earlier Lo-Fi Folk/Rock/Pop recordings, and he could’ve bowed out right then having made his ultimate album. But Vile grew up on records from Rock’s lifers, your Neil Youngs and your Bruce Springsteens, so that just wasn’t an option, and he instead chose to follow it up with his biggest and boldest statement yet.

While considerably longer than his other records, it’s a pretty lean take on a double album. Vile has eliminated any expected filler by picking his eleven best songs and letting them sit for a while. He unhurriedly lets them unfurl as he restructures and resets their chord progressions for as long as ten minutes. It avoids double album gimmicks, the two discs aren’t distinct from each other and the flow is almost too good, which makes the idea of getting up and changing sides seem more like an annoyance than an essential part of the experience. It’s best enjoyed as an uninterrupted singular album, that just happens to have the very welcome bonus of being pretty long.

Partial-title track “Wakin On a Pretty Day” is a gorgeous, perfect opener, deep acoustic strings are layered over rich electric tones during the song’s breezy chorus, all building to an outro solo that practically glistens. Along with the upbeat, ragged lead of “KV Crimes” it’s the first sign that Vile has grown as a guitarist. Every song has an instantly identifiable and excellent guitar opening, from the swampy distortion of “Girl Called Alex” to the Nick-Drake-finger picked chords of “Too Hard”. He makes amazing use of these stringed motifs, and you never notice the songs lengths. In one of his first interviews about the album he called it his Tusk, and while that’s not really a spot on comparison his outro solos are definitely on par with Lindsey Buckingham’s.

“Shame Chamber” features some of Vile’s most self-loathing and self-exploratory lyrics, even if the fun and sharp “WOOOO”’s present him as a limosine ridin’, jet flyin, kiss-stealin, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun! He’s made a big double album, one the Rock artist’s biggest indulgences, but he has somehow kept his tone personal and humble, even as he adds another flavour with “Never Run Away” the album’s clear pop single. Its killer chorus is almost as cute as the song’s video.

Vile’s Americana influences are still at the forefront of his sound, Wakin On a Pretty Daze was recorded on both coasts, but it’s full of sounds and influences from all over the giant country. “Air Bud” mixes heartland guitar licks with sunny synths; its outro could’ve been a whole other song. “Goldtone” could be the track that this album is remembered for, Vile sings some of his most evocative lines over its floating melodies, and maybe even clears up some misconceptions about himself: “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, concentrate my hurt into a gold tone”. He reveals to us what’s behind his seemingly laid back front, and tells us how he comes up with so many great guitar sounds. It’s an odyssey of a closer, with organ keys, and soft female vocals moving freely within it, creating a beautiful sonic radiance that shimmers along with Vile’s guitar strings.

It really begins to reveal itself after a few listens and the length begins to feel vital. Wakin On a Pretty Daze may wear the clothes of a classic rock double LP, but it stays true to Kurt Vile’s style, and it’s a joy to bask in his songs’ bright and pale sunshine for just that little while longer.

5/5

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Michael Gira

An awkward silence hung over the Birmingham audience as Swans took to the stage, either too polite, or too intimidated to applaud the arrival of Michael Gira and his legendary New York Experimental/Noise Rock band. It was the last moment of calm and silence that anyone in The Library would hear for over two hours. As Swans’ sucked the air from the room, any traditional concepts of melody or rhythm went with it, and the very idea of verse-chorus song structure probably would’ve been met with a sly smirk.

They opened with Gira shaking the room with his impossibly deep baritone, chanting “there are millions and millions of stars in your eyes” over a hauntingly shrill and sparse rhythm, sometimes singing it off-mic as he drifted around the stage with his own eyes closed. The rest of the band met his volume as they violently snapped through “Mother of the World”, a panting menace of a song from The Seer, Swans equally demented 2012 album. They ripped into it with such fervour that several earplugless individuals immediately fled the barrier.

Swans’ six man line-up ranges from your standard stern faced rhythm guitarist, bassist and drummer, to the more nebulous and hard to define multi-instrumentalist. Thor Harris, who lived up to his name by playing bare chested, literally provided Swans’ bells and whistles, along with brass and fierce percussion. Chris Pravdica provided the punishing bass catalyst of “Coward”, coercing the rest of the rhythm section into the songs intense severity. Gira sang and spat out the unnerving lyrics amongst the troubled rhythms, shouting: “I don’t know you / I can’t use you / Put your knife in me”. He seemed to be aware of every noise and note that each of his band members were making or playing; he would repeatedly beckon to them for more volume, or place his guitar down and conduct their corrosive cacophony with his convulsive dancing.

They played long and unhurried versions of their songs, indulging in long abstract noise rock sections that frequently pushed song lengths well past the 20 minute mark. They would play the same earth shattering mantric refrains until the sense altering volume finally began to white out. After 90 minutes Gira said that there set was only half over, it’s hard to imagine he was joking, and he only found time for one more song before the 11pm curfew.

Their dirge of anguished violent noise was enough to set your brain on fire, engulfing it as it found a form of ecstasy within Swans’ transcendent onslaught, becoming enamoured and alive with frisson as their volume shook your bones, and Gira spouted what must’ve been demonic tongues. The awkward silence had transformed to loud applause by their set’s end, and the band relieved the haunting tension by taking uncharacteristically playful bows.

It’s so easy to call the noise produced by some of music’s loudest bands a ‘wall of sound’. Any band who push their volume far into the red have probably had their live set described this way, but for Swans it just doesn’t feel like an apt description. The noise they created on The Library’s stage didn’t feel like an isolating wall, it didn’t block out audience, it enveloped them. It felt like you were within it, hurtling with it through dark and unsettling scenes, becoming ever more willing to hand yourself over to its all-consuming power, not even caring that it was turning anything caught in its wake to dust.

5/5