Review: Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

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“The whole general thing is one long daze, and that’s waking up.”

If I was feeling particularly lazy, this review could end right there, with Kurt Vile’s own description of his latest album. Because for better or worse, that’s what Wakin On A Pretty Daze is – “one long daze.” It’s a lengthy, woozy jam session held by one of the best strummers in the business today. Vile isn’t revolutionizing music with these songs, nor is he drastically changing his sound. Instead, he’s sticking to his comfort zone. And boy, does he sound comfortable.

The album’s opening nine minutes perfectly set the pace and the tone of the experience to come. “Walkin On A Pretty Daze” is a gorgeous, subtle epic of a track, driving forward with no final destination, no real chorus and no true bridge. As a matter of fact, traditional “bridges” are hard to locate throughout this album – rather, songs sprawl out in endless directions and just wander, creating sonic landscapes with no epic build or climactic moment to be found.

This type of song structure certainly has its merits – Vile’s lengthy jamming and mumbled preaching is often trance inducing, giving the music the feel of a hypnotic, psychedelic experience. The guitar riffs are consistently pleasant, as are Vile’s calm, ragged vocals. But even the most beautiful music can bore when stretched out for too long, and with so many songs that last over six minutes, Wakin On A Pretty Daze can occasionally grow tiresome and repetitive as a complete album.

Whether you are bored or transfixed by the album, however, will be entirely dependent on your mood upon listening. Vile has crafted 70 minutes that are perfect for a specific atmosphere of reflection and introspection. There will undoubtedly be those who will play this record in its entirety on long, solo road trips, or relaxing Sunday afternoons spent lounging around the house, and it will work perfectly as a complete entity. But Wakin On A Pretty Daze isn’t really made for active listening, and it certainly isn’t made for replaying individual singles (there’s hardly a track on here that would be perceived as “radio-friendly” – the short and sweet “Shame Chamber” is the closest thing to it).

Vile’s brand of introspection is at its most evident on “Pure Pain.” In a surprising song shift, jagged guitar riffs and a harsh vocal melody both give way to quietly creaking, spiraling acoustic strums, as Vile utters his words in an apparent stream of consciousness: “Every time that I look out my window, all my emotions they are speeding, as if through a winding highway to my head, pick up momentum and I’m coasting, only to turn around…” he tells us, before his voice becomes too muffled to fully understand. And yet again, the song calmly drifts, winds, and wanders, before quietly fading away into another eight minutes of drifting, winding and wandering.

Critics often describe Vile’s music as sounding “effortless,” and there certainly is a nonchalant, jam session nature that runs throughout his music. Still, we all know that there has to be a process to his songwriting, which he tries to describe quite bluntly and succinctly on the album’s final track: “I might be adrift, but I’m still alert, concentrating my hurt into a gold tone – golden tones.” With Wakin On A Pretty Daze, Vile has added another seemingly effortless 70 minutes’ worth of straightforward, easygoing golden tones to his consistent discography. [B]

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