Music Reviews
Wakin' On A Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile Wakin' On A Pretty Daze

(Matador) Rating - 8/10

Kurt Vile was born and fed to be a working stiff, the kind of old-fashioned man that is kind, committed to a set of values that will subsist for an entire lifetime. His hunched-over posture and raggedy long hair doesn’t necessarily personify that image in the 21st century, but he actually did his share of laborsaving machinery before scoring a deal with Matador records. We don’t hear these kinds of stories as much as we used to, or do they ring with the same resonance – John Prine once vividly detailed getting 50 cents an hour working at a parking lot in Fish and Whistle, Loretta Lynn offered a not-so-rose-colored view of being a working housewife in One’s on the Way, and Uncle Tupelo wrote a bleak ode to the daily grind in Grindstone. It only shows that whether or not we can’t escape our unchanging fate, we always start from somewhere. And though we keep reading economic reports about widespread male worklessness in the workforce, most of the musicians in the same age ratio as Vile seem to either dismiss their past with a feeling of indignity, or simply can’t relate because they were born with a silver platter.

Those fork lifting days are now over for Vile, but in Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, he’s more connected with his past than he’s even been. Vile utilizes his guitar like a handy man tool that will provide him with a pathway to prosperity, effortlessly vibing with his rambling country shuffle with the embrace of an everyday bub. ‘I’m ready to claim what’s mine/rightfully’, he protests over a major key in KV Crimes, earning each and every one of those licks with a medal of excellence. It shows Vile at his more buoyant, furthering his loyalty and perseverance to the classic sounds of southern-fried psychedelia with a carefree disposition. And at first, we’re spurred on to believe that all is well in Vile island – ‘it’s hard to explain my love these days’, he dwells in a state of calmness in Wakin’ On a Pretty Day, a languishing nine minute opus that weaves a gentle strum, its spiraling surge of warm synth tones hitting you like a sun ray that greets you after a good night’s sleep.

Vile sits beside you like a trusted confidant, his self-aware mind going on different tangents as a plodding tractor perpetually moves forward. All the cracks begin to show in Was All Talk, which trails off into a winding, shimmering melody as a quick, though tempered percussion and aqueous synth flutter come together while Vile fends off against his own ego; he lashes himself for being all talk, then proceeds to build himself up: ‘making music is easy/watch me’! Of course, it’s complimented with all sorts of incoherent jibber jabber, but his thoughts turn progressively bleaker (and poignantly clear) as his chemically induced gaiety begins to wear off.  The strummy Appalachian purity of Pure Pain is strikingly gorgeous, where Vile takes the downtrodden path down memory lane as his crescendoing fingerpicking augments every soft spot in his skin. On A Girl Called Alex, the diluted image of lost love approaches him, and expresses it to a point where there’s really no answer to his lament; he contemplates, lying in his fantasy/infinity/then I’ll never be abandoned, suggesting the sort unexplainable euphoria that permeates into borderline obsession, but the language in the song is so cryptic that it is impossible to cull out its true meaning. The instinctive, minor key chord progressions in Alex are dark and full of contrast, though, drifting over a thick, gauzy distortion that comes to be endowed more with skill than with feeling. Still, we begin to feel concerned for him: he shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery under these conditions.

Vile has grown leaps and bounds from the brief, lo-fi experiments of his earlier material, and whereas it used to be a problem that he cut the songs right when the hooks would begin to sink in, he now settles in these interminable bridges that are long-winded and translucently cyclical. Nevertheless, they usually feel half their actual length – the lazy, blissful sonic layers and subtle guitar scratching transitions of Too Hard are suitable for Vile as he reflects on the merits of responsibility (there comes a time in every man’s life/where he's gotta take hold of the hand that ain't his/but it is), and reminded me both in form and subject matter to Joseph Arthur’s strolling lament The Termite Song. In fact, Arthur’s Redemption’s Son has many parallels to Daze – the dreamy, avant-leaning allure in terms of production is concerned, the self-pitying monologue in poetic freeform (the otherwise jaunty, soft rock-evoking Shame Chamber), and the occasional stab at writing a pop song that’s nestled in an otherwise sprawling package (found in the saccharinely sweet Never Run Away).

Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze strikes with a gust of pent up emotions, a trailblazing record that openly affirms a personal accountability for self without slipping into heavy-handedness. Vile is frequently adrift but always observant, making up the words as they come to him whilst articulating various vignettes of truths. He even pokes fun at himself for his inconsistent musings in the majestic closer Goldtones, in which he throws a clever retort in regards to how others may envision his songwriting technique: sometimes when I’m in the zone/ you think I was stoned/but I never, as they say, touch the stuff. It only proves that Vile almost took a Workingman’s Dead approach with this one, in which Vile takes a more laissez-faire, country-rock bearing that’s a tad more rational in execution, but still manages to flow with effortless ease. Vile may procure to himself a reputation that he wanders too easy to stray, but he always takes the song where it needs to go, and always ends it when it feels just right. It seems like a lot of work, but for a breadwinner like Vile, it’s just another day at the shop.