Being an American singer-songwriter with country leanings, Kurt Vile is inevitably haunted by comparisons with the likes of Petty, Dylan and Springsteen, and not without reason. His nasal drawl and knowing lyrics often evoke Dylan-esque sonance and there are even strains of Neil Young to be found in his upper register. But with this, his most assured and rewarding record to date, it is more apparent than ever that Vile is a great deal more than the sum of his influences.
His previous effort, Smoke Ring For My Halo, saw him refining his sound, toning down the lo-fi aesthetics of his earlier work and casting a sharper eye over the details, resulting in a collection of songs which remained centered on his distinctive croon and hazy chords but possessed an engrossing depth. If that record was Vile changing direction, Wakin On A Pretty Daze is him hitting his stride; completing the transition out of the bedroom and into the wider world. He sounds at total ease on this album and this air of confidence translates into more expansive songs – he has a way of allowing them to unfurl of their own accord, never coming across as self-indulgent or forced.
Opening track “Wakin On A Pretty Day” sets the tone nicely with a laid-back strummed refrain and a wandering guitar line which drifts in and out of the song over its nine minute length and yet somehow never outstays its welcome. Vile’s songs aren’t always instantly appealing, often taking a few listens to soften on the ear, but that can’t be said of the majority of Wakin On A Pretty Daze. “Pure Pain” clatters in with a triumphant jangle of open-tuned chords before easing into a mesmerising picked pattern, coloured by hushed piano and carried along by pattering snares. There is an almost tangible sense of motion in these quieter moments, and no shortage of space for them to move through. ‘Every time that I look out my window/all my emotions they are speeding’ he murmurs, ‘zip through a winding highway in my head/pick up momentum and I’m coasting’.
The LP’s transcendent conclusion “Goldtone” is built around a simple strummed motif, which gently oscillates, propelling the song forwards. Layer upon layer of effortless acoustic phrasing falls into place only to disappear down the highway. Electric flourishes skirt around the fringes without ever really drawing focus, while slide guitar glimmers in the peripheries. It really is masterfully arranged, with almost every detail weighted perfectly.
The album is wonderfully languid throughout, and what’s remarkable is that despite its unhurried pace it never wanes or feels sluggish. Vile’s offhand demeanour may seem at odds with the meticulous nature of his songwriting, but a record like Wakin On A Pretty Daze could only be the product of both.
…Dan is listening to Lapalux – “Walking Words”