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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