Kurt Vile’s last effort Smoke Ring for my Halo received universal acclaim and was hailed as one of the best albums of the year. His newest album Wakin On A Pretty Daze expands this work by embracing more clean production values and stretching the songs into epic, sprawling, folk-tinged takes on rock. The songs are built on steady grooves, incorporate touches of psychedelia and electronic effects, and draw inspiration from rock and roll greats across the decades such Pavement, Wilco, Big Star, and Lou Reed.
Vile, a founding member of celebrated band The War On Drugs, has been a prolific force since beginning his solo career. Too, his albums have progressively moved from lo-fi recordings to more accessible production values. Wakin On A Pretty Daze is no exception—the album is at once more polished than anything before. In fact, the production of the record is practically perfect; even when a guitar or vocal track delves into lo-fi sensibilities, it’s clearly intentional, and often tempered with well-produced background atmospherics.
Opener “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” a play on the album’s title, sets up the listener for much of what will come. The song’s rhythms are steady and laid back as groovy, reverb-laden guitar solos occupy musical interludes and carry the song’s later sections. Stretching out over nine minutes (and that’s not the longest one), Vile lets you know right up front that these songs will take their time—more than half are longer than six minutes. Some people will undoubtedly complain about the song lengths, but if you can relax and get onboard for the ride, you’ll be rewarded. After all, this is the kind of music that lends itself to extended grooves—perfect for long drives across the desert, summertime back yard sitting, or evening porch drinking with buddies.
Vile immediately follows the opener with proof that he hasn’t lost any edge, offering the crunchy and rocking “KV Crimes,” which sounds like a New York era Lou Reed with a little more power. Most of the album follows these two patterns. “Never Run Away,” the beautiful and mourning “Too Hard,” and ten-minute closer “Goldtone” follow the acoustic sensibilities of opener “Wakin On A Pretty Day” while “Snowflakes Are Dancing” and “Shame Chamber” channel some of the edgy buzz present in “KV Crimes.”
The remaining tracks balance these two styles while incorporating experimentation and effects. “Was All Talk” sounds a little like Vile’s label mates Yo La Tengo, another band that has continually looked to Big Star as an influence. “Girl Called Alex” is a slow burner that dissolves into blurry organ and lightly droning vocal delivery. “Pure Pain” is the most anomalistic on the record, slowly ambling through echoes, dark, off kilter guitars notes, and choppy chord progressions.
Wakin On A Pretty Daze couldn’t be a more apt descriptor for this album. Entrancing and gorgeous, the record represents an artist fiercely pursuing a vision of creativity regardless of convention. Although he channels the styles of luminary musicians, Vile makes the album his own, delivering songs that sprawl out, as vast and textured as the North American landscape. At the onset of “Too Hard,” Vile somewhat sarcastically invokes the opening phrases from the Boy Scout’s Oath. Indeed, there’s something about the album that feels quintessentially American—Wakin On A Pretty Daze is an outstanding, weary, bleary-eyed look at the fundamental music that has triumphed decade after decade.