Album Review: Kurt Vile – ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’

Two hazy home recorded albums released on indie labels and another 3 into his residency at Matador Records and it’s starting to feel like Kurt Vile knows how to craft an album. With the 2011 release ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo’ Vile refined his sound giving it a crisp, clear, and delicate tone and things seemed like they were coming together for the man with the droning mind.

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However, ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’ has elaborated on everything that ‘Smoke Ring…’ did well whilst providing a more open and expansive experience, all the while, moving at its own pace, happily wandering without  direction or destination in mind.

As soon as you drop the needle on this record, you can instantly feel the warm and unhurried nature of his music being channeled through the strum of the first few chords, whilst the dreamy lead guitar accompaniment eases you into the 9 and a half minute, almost, title track ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’. The introduction to this daze of an album takes you through a morning in the life of Vile, happily letting the phone “ring off the shelf” as he enjoys wondering why he ever “goes away”. This track seems to be the perfect opener, giving example to the relaxed and spacious approach of the album whilst lyrically introducing you to Vile’s new outlook on life as a happily married family man. Regardless of the impression the first track has left on the listener of Vile’s content life, he returns to his reflective roots on tracks like ‘Girl Called Alex’ and ‘Too Hard’. ‘Girl Called Alex’ touches on his fears of rejection as he admits to an obsession with a marriage, outside of his own, he once thought to be happy. ‘Girl Called Alex’ is also reminiscent of earlier work as Vile drops a line that wouldn't sound out of place on ‘My Sympathy’ from his second full length album ‘God Is Saying This To You’: “For the sake of this drift I could be cruising/ In the comfort of a sportscar illusion”. Vile seems to be touching on previous fears of a white collar lifestyle and the comforts that one would provide. ‘Too Hard’ features a more mature Vile making a list of things he promises to give up, such as smoking and partying, as he adjust to family life. These tracks are perfect examples of a wordsmith maturing and honing in on a more honest approach to writing whilst retaining the personality, edge, and mystery of previous records.  Musically, they provide slow and sparse ground for the sentiments to take center stage. This is especially true on ‘Too Hard’ which is heavily centered around Vile’s classic folk fingerpicking leanings as opposed to the more dreamy slacker rock feel which the rest of the album encompasses.  

The shorter and more immediate tracks on the album see Vile returning  to a more current state of mind as he happily declares that his heart has “overgrown” with a risk of “exploding” on the 4 minute long ‘KV Crimes’. This track perfectly demonstrates that even though the sentiments behind most of Vile’s songs have changed dramatically in comparison to the gloomier ‘Smoke Ring…’ he is still able to deliver muddy riffs with a lot of attitude. ‘KV Crimes’ sounds like everything ‘Puppet to the Man’ from Vile’s previous effort  was trying to be and is further proof of the refining of his sound. 

However, the highlight of the hypnotic trance that is ‘Wakin on a Pretty Daze’ is found in ‘Shame Chamber’ which sees Vile being so openly melancholic, in a similar fashion to Kurt Vile classic ‘Runners Up’, whilst capturing the sunny vibe of the record. Vile cries that “I couldn't even look myself in the mirror” and questions “Why should I?” to, arguably, the catchiest and most hook riddled track featured.  He openly admits in the finale, ‘Goldtone’, that he concentrates his hurt "into a gold tone" and that is exactly what he has done with 'Shame Chamber'.

Overall, 'Wakin on a Pretty Daze' effortlessly fluctuates between Vile's old ways and new expansive approach without sounding confused and all the while fully capturing the beautiful imagery of the title. A lot of love has gone into this album and it is one that begs to be listened to over and over again until every tiny detail in this landscape of a record has been appreciated. Vile's latest effort truly takes you to another world and allows you to "chill on a pillowy cloud" for 70 minutes worth of bittersweet tunes.