Kurt Vile is not in a rush. After achieving moderate success with The War on Drugs, he has been slowly and methodically perfecting his solo career. With each release he has fine-tuned his lo-fi, laid back style. If he has an end destination in mind, he will get there in his own good time.
That is exactly how Wakin on a Pretty Daze, his fifth solo album, feels. Each track takes exactly the time it needs to explore all of its ideas, which is often a pretty long time. Looking at the CD cover, you might be surprised to see the opening song, Wakin on a Pretty Day clocks in at nine minutes, but dismiss it as an experiment. Then your eyes slide down to the third track – 7 minutes – the seventh one – 8 minutes – and the final one – a whopping 10 minutes. This isn’t a man who’s in a hurry to do anything.
Fortunately, the tunes justify the extended play times. To borrow a cliché, it’s all about the journey rather than the destination. Kurt and his band ‘The Violators’ pick a simple chord sequence and experiment with it for all it’s worth, producing almost painfully sweet indie rock.
Eight minute plus songs generally fit into two categories – the Stairway to Heaven clones that change instruments and tempo every few minutes, and those that stretch a three minute song to breaking point. Kurt’s songs manage to fall in the sweet middle ground, keeping the same simple chords sounding complex and fresh throughout. Whenever it threatens to get boring, Vile’s weary voice kicks in with a pearl of stoner wisdom or a member of The Violators discovers a new riff to keep you humming along for hours. On Too Hard, he sings “Take your time they say, and that’s probably the best way to be.” Kurt seems to have taken this to heart; the two longest songs, Wakin on Pretty Day and Goldtone are actually the highlights of the album.
The most important gift a musician can have is the ability to evoke a setting, or a mood, or even just a feeling with a few chords, and Kurt has it in buckets. While listening to Wakin on a Pretty Day, you feel as though you’re accompanying him on his morning walk, past the Philadelphia graffiti monument to him from the album cover, and automatically populate it with people from your own life. When the final mournful chimes have faded away, you feel as though you’ve had a long day out. The lo-fi, unvarnished sounds help, tricking your mind into thinking you are in Kurt’s living room.
If trying to pick a weakness on this album you could perhaps point out the lyrics, which are often obscure and lacking in meaning, but who gives a fuck. They fit the music’s atmosphere of nonchalance perfectly, as though Kurt deliberately isn’t trying hard.
If you can’t stand the long play times, Wakin of a Pretty Daze isn’t for you. There’s no shame in that, but if you have the patience and more importantly the [will], Kurt take you on an epic voyage through his everyday life. This is one of those few lengthy albums that couldn’t have done with a little trimming.