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Friday, April 5, 2013

Kurt Vile: Wakin On A Pretty Daze (Release Date: 4-9-2013)

        In the rock genre, as well as at certain bars the nation over, effortlessness is often synonymous with cool. Just ask The Strokes, who used to play their every song with the nonchalance of a throw-away, until all their songs actually became throw-aways. Or Lou Reed, who remains a legend in the art of letting half-baked sentiments fall slowly out of his throat as if he couldn't care less about the words themselves. The modern landscape is saturated with artists well-versed in the art of working way, way smarter-than-harder, from Mac DeMarco, to Devendra Banhart, to Real Estate, but only one man is allowed to sit upon the throne. Heavy hangs the crown on Kurt Vile's head, the unrivaled ruler of Couldn't-Care-Less Kingdom, and Wakin On A Pretty Daze is nothing if not a massive reaffirmation of his kingship.

        Over 20 minutes longer than its lauded forbearer (Smoke Ring For My Halo) despite occupying the very same number of tracks, Wakin's songs are much more expansive and loosely constructed than their 2011 relatives. Seven of the disc's eleven tunes unspool over 5+ minutes, as compared to three on Vile's previous effort, the extra time gently peeling away layers of verse-chorus-verse rhetoric, unearthing an endless buffet of head-spinning axe-work. Opener Wakin On A Pretty Day, which felt like an unruly lead single upon initial release in early February, turns out to be a mission statement of sorts; the nine-and-a-half-minute jam session is far too long and hookless to have any business on the radio, but its enveloping, hypnotic powers are not to be doubted, and perfectly previewed what was on the way.

        Vile's guitar solos, which I'd wager make up at least half of the album's runtime (and much more than half of the aforementioned single), aren't the face-melters that one often associates with long-haired men doing battle on a fret board, but are entirely more intrinsic and inviting beasts. Everything Kurt Vile does with a six string feels natural and instinctive, each note perfectly selected, never straining or trading control for speed like so many of his rocker peers. Sure, a more lazy voice behind a microphone would be difficult to find, but the troubadour's croon, in both lyrics and intonation, has always taken a backseat to his instrumentation, a notion that Daze's thickened sonic world pushes even further. Vile even invites you in on this mixing room hierarchy, calling himself out of the sublimely speedy, aptly-titled Was All Talk by claiming, "There was a/Time in my/Life when they/Thought I was/All talk... Now take a look at my hands/Watch them go/Watch them go/Yeah, I'm going/Yeah, I'm gone." The majesty of the man's music comes not from his throat, but from his fingers.

        The difference between a, 'good,' Pretty Daze track and a, 'bad,' one is almost impossible to discern with the naked ear; pointing out specific high-points is a lot less important than just hitting play. That being said, the slow-burn groove of Girl Called Alex is worth celebrating, as is the sun-soaked mischief of Shame Chamber. Songs this perfect don't just write themselves, a fact that Vile reminds us of on his slow-motion wonderment of a closing track Goldtone, declaring, "Sometimes when I get in my zone/You'd think I was stoned/But I never, as they say/Touch the stuff." His glorious naturalism is the product of practice and fuss, a fact evidenced by the layers upon layers of exactingly-placed sounds that swirl astoundingly at the end of nearly every tune. That he can make it all look so easy is just the cherry on top, a dollop of performance art cool atop what simply has to be a painstakingly made work of art. Wakin is the finest Guy-Picks-Up-A-Guitar-And-Just-GOES album in recent memory, and an absolute assault on anyone who's ever had the audacity to call the guitar solo dead. Will you just go get it already?

Grade: A- 

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