LOOKING FOR THE LOST CHORD... AND FINDING IT
To be honest, I was somewhat underwhelmed by Kurt Viles' last album, "Smoke Ring For My Halo" (Matador, 2011). There were a couple of songs that completely wowed me ("In My Time" and the title track) but I didn't care as much for the rest of it. To my way of thinking, that album sounded like a talented guy finding his way musically who maybe wasn't there yet. But based on what I saw as Vile's potential from those songs I liked so much, I decided to give his newest one "Wakin On A Pretty Daze" a try.
I'm pretty much wowed by this one from start to finish. It is without a doubt the best thing I have heard this year so far, and one of the more amazing records I've heard in a long time!
This time Vile uses a full band sound throughout, and the lengthy tracks allow the songs to stretch out a bit. And they stretch out into some pretty far-reaching places.
The moods range from a dreamy meditation on love and responsibility ("Too Hard") to an uptempo driver brimming with confidence ("Was All Talk) to beautifully-constructed pop ("Snowflakes Are Dancing" and "Never Run Away") to steady, muscular psychedelia ("Girl Called Alex" and "Air Bud"). There are other goodies mixed in, like the lovely and languid nine-minutes-plus opening track "Wakin On A Pretty Day" and the capstone of the album, the lush ten-minute "Goldtone".
Vile is ably assisted by his band, The Violators, over the course of the album. He and his two compadres create some beautiful sounds, and there are lap steel contributions by guest contributor Farmer Dave Scher in "Girl Called Alex", "Too Hard" and "Pure Pain" that elevate those songs from "good" to "great".
While there is lots of talk about Kurt Vile as a songwriter (and he is very good at that), attention should be paid to his skills as an arranger and musician. There aren't many people around lately who do all those things all at once as well as does, and "Wakin On A Pretty Daze" showcases his considerable talent in astounding fashion. Some people may find his ultra-relaxed vocal style to be an acquired taste, but once you listen to the way he uses it as an instrument in these songs, I believe you will be sold on it. This album is a total package, and for me it's pure satisfaction.
Check out the dreamy passages in "Pure Pain"... most of the last several minutes of "Was All Talk"... the high atmospherics of "Snowflakes Are Dancing"... the instrumental entirety of "Too Hard"... the four-and-a-half-minute mark in "Air Bud" when the music busts back in and then for the minute or so after that... There really is so much ear candy on this record that it's hard to describe it adequately.
"Sometimes when I get in my zone you'd think I was stoned but I never, as they say, touch the stuff. I might be adrift, but I'm still alert, concentrate my hurt into a gold tone... golden tones."
Those are the words of a young musician who is searching for the lost chord. And it in some places on this record, I believe Kurt Vile finds it. Listen to his work, and you will see what I mean.