Archives for posts with tag: Kurt Vile & the Violators

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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Kurt Vile

The run up to The National’s ATP festival has caused a mass influx of American Indie Rock bands with Folk leanings to the UK this week, and this ATP promoted Kurt Vile show seemed designed to give three of those bands something to do before they make the drive to Camber Sands. It also gave the non-attendees a chance to see three of the festivals best.

First opening act Dark Dark Dark play a set of material from their great new album Who Needs Who. Like the album, their live sound is a jazzy-piano heavy breed of Folk Rock. Which features an accordion, some brass, and a atypical bass-drumless drum setup. Vocalist Nona Marie Invie’s performed all but one song seated behind the keyboard, and her rich affective voice blossomed during “It’s a Secret” and “Meet in the Dark”. It’s great and mellow enough that even the light mumble of audience conversation doesn’t detract from their great set.

Baltimore’s Lower Dens politely announce that they’re ready as they begin a slow and gorgeous set of their ‘Alternative’ music, in the hard to properly define sense of the world. They’ve been labelled with genres as varied as Dream Pop and Post Punk, but their sound is both too dark and too majestic to fit comfortably within either. Their excellent 2012 release Nootropics is proof that it’s music that requires patience. They use stiff drum beats and synth to play their wistful and illusory music within a traditional band structure. Serene opener “I Get Nervous”, from their debut album Twin-Hand Movement, shows off Jana Hunter’s and Geoff Graham’s off kilter harmonies, and the unnerving and nebulous beauty in Hunter’s voice emerges during “Propagation”. The more bass heavy “Brains” and “Stem” are almost proggy as the band descends from the soundscape for something more straightforward. Their fantastic set trails of more than it concludes, but even those who weren’t won over could feel their dark music lingering in the air as they left the stage.

It’s been almost 2 years since the release of Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt Vile’s breakout album from early 2011. Outside of a few live shows, it’s been a low key year for Vile. This is perfectly inline with his apathetic lyrics (“Think I’ll never leave my couch again”), but in reality it’s probably because he just has a second child with his wife, and is recording a new album. Somewhere during his time off Vile became an incredible guitar player, he was always good but at this gig his playing is pretty much the whole show. His guitar was deafening in his central monitors during opener “Hunchback”, and the tone sounded incredible all night. Ranging from his chunky, purring, folk guitar drawl to his excellent acoustic fingerpicking. He spent the majority of the set bent forward, his long hair draped only inches from the necks of his multiple Fender Jaguars, as he unleashed and lost himself in long guitar jams.

“Got no room for those two minute pop songs anymore”, he says after the light and poppy “Freeway”. A statement he proves with mammoth and grungey version of “Society Is My Friend”. The lengthy laid back guitar jams are far more to Vile’s speed now than the playful “Freeway”, the song’s yippy vocals sounded great, but out of place even on Constant Hitmaker. His Crazy Horse equivalent, The Violators, leave him alone with his acoustic guitar for several songs, allowing him to temporarily embody a solo Americana folk figure. He knows to pull back the volume for the magical fingerpicking of “Peeping Tomboy”, making it a stunning highlight.

Vile can be casual and laid back with his singing style to a fault, he sometimes sings his lyrics out of time. Some members of the crowd hushly mumbled along with him during “Baby’s Arms” and “Peeping Tomboy”, and his messy vocal style may have held them back from being great sing alongs. It’s customary to his lovably lazy stoner rock persona, as he is singing with as much energy as his lyrics are conveying, but it’s also an obvious weak point that he lets his masterful guitar work make up for. His stage banter is just as incoherent, but it’s sparse and saved mainly for one word thank you’s and song dedications to unknown people like “Stephanie”, who probably struggled to comprehend that the dedication was intended for them. “We’ve got to catch a plane to ATP” he said before a pre-encore version of title track “Smoke Ring for My Halo”. Spoken in a way that left no one quite sure whether he was joking or not, as they tried to remember if Camber Sands is actually far enough away from London for that to really be his method of travel.

His guitar sound continued to be the best thing about the show, as well as being its biggest problem. Its force was awe inspiring, but became a problem for the non-drummer Violators. Their rhythmic licks and other contributions to the folk guitar wall were near impossible to pick out as Vile dominated within it. It made his fantastically name backing band seem almost pointless. It was hard to tell if he played any new songs or not (he didn’t(?)). But it almost doesn’t matter what songs he played, it was a thrill just to watch his guitar playing weave through multiple styles and tempos. His songs have always been more about mood and tone than they are about hooks.

An encore of “Freak Train” appropriately featured a spaced out pedal mashing distortion freak out that destroyed its sampled beats with otherworldly guitar shrieks. Vile closed with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. With an arrangement indebted to the Gun N’ Roses version, but Vile’s voice returned it to its mumbling Bob Dylan origins. He isn’t the most adept frontman, and he is clearly more Dylan than he is Axl. But he seems to have no patience for that sort of thing, and is at his most comfortable when shrouded in his exhilarating guitar tone.

4/5