Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kurt Vile: Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Yet again, I'm going to have to begin a post with a caveat.  And this time, it's weather-related - since I have two small, often annoying children, the six-month winter we've had in my part of the country has been excruciatingly long.  And now that spring hasn't sprung anything but a goddamn leak (we're on day 3 of torrential downpours and 40 degree weather), my inner curmudgeon is in quite the mood.  This fact may or may not have tempered my opinion of this album, which I didn't particularly care for despite the fact that a Consequence of Sound interview I found with Kurt Vile begins with the sentence "You have to try pretty hard to not fall in love with Kurt Vile’s music — humorous, self-deprecating, and honest all at once".  On the bright side, since I didn't have to try AT ALL not to fall in love with this release, I'm considering taking on the Borg.

Anyway.  Now let's talk about the dude, who, SURPRISE, I didn't know anything about before I listened to this record.  According to Wikipedia, Vile was born in 1980 and this is his fifth solo release (he's also in indie group The War on Drugs).  Furthermore, according to this interview at BEAT Magazine, Wakin On A Pretty Daze was inspired by music biographies, especially Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns and "the lyrical theme is always just like, not exactly self-centred [sic], but always a bit melancholic."  Humor is also an important part of the equation, it turns out, although when Pitchfork asks about it Vile goes a little tangential and opines "Everyone’s funny. Bob Dylan can be funny. Townes van Zandt can be funny, but he can also break your fucking heart. Ween are funny, but the hopeless indie victims don't get them. They've got way too much of a stick up their asses."  And to round things out, Vile also tells Consequence of Sound that his daughter's favorite record is "one of my favorite records from when I was a kid, this Rusty & Doug Kershaw one. It’s Cajun rock n’ roll, called Louisiana Man."  And yes, that's her in the video down below.

So now it's time to talk about the music.  The interviews I cited above indicate that Vile's sound has changed over time, that his guitar playing has gotten better, and that his backing band has become more important in the song-writing process (they're called "The Violators").  Obviously, I have no perspective on this, but I can say that the album's overarching impression is one of soft '70s psychedelic guitar imposed on more modern drums and percussive touches and then finished off by Vile's bored-sounding vocals.  And, in my opinion at least, that's how I could describe pretty much every track on this thing, but I'll do you the courtesy of extending my imagination just a bit further.  With that aim in mind, "Was All Talk" begins with an insistent drum beat and synth background before adding in a pleasant, ripply guitar and lyrics ("There was a time in my life/When they thought I was all talk"), and "Pure Pain" has a certain duality, beginning with jangly, metallic guitar spurts over a clattering drum and then transitioning into a trancelike combo of warm guitar and a fast but quiet beat (I couldn't really make out the lyrics well enough to write down).  Finally, "Goldtone" goes back-porch country in comparison to the rest of the songs, with a pronounced bass riff, a twangy guitar, and some eventual backing "yeah"s ("Sometimes when I get in my zone/You'd think I was stoned/But I never as they say/Touch the stuff").

Which brings us to the conclusion, or in other words, the time to address the question of "what the fuck is wrong with me, and why didn't I like this record anyway?".  First and foremost, I have to mention that this album lives up to its name perfectly - the sound of Vile's apathetic drawl over a background of swirly and slightly acid guitar does indeed invoke a pretty daze, if nothing else.  And maybe, quite frankly, that right there is my problem - anytime we're talking about a daze, we're talking about a monochromatic state, where stimulating sensory inputs are dulled into complacency.  And this record's lack of anything but the subtlest textural changes combined with its 1.2 hour runtime just kinda bored me, especially paired with the fact that I had a hard time making out the lyrics and didn't understand the humor (incidentally, I'm taking Vile's word that it's funny, although I'm not sure if I didn't get the jokes because of my incomplete understanding of the lyrics or the giant stick up my ass).  Long story short, this album reminded me of the rain: great for the first couple minutes, less great mid-way through, and a giant drag three days into the storm.  Curmudgeons of the world, unite!

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