Following his return to West Virginia from Austin, Daniel Johnston, along with producer and Shimmy Disc proprietor Kramer and the "Eye Band" (a group of Johnston's hometown friends), recorded Artistic Vice, an album filled with rough-hewn pop/rock that despite its lo-fi exterior was his most accessible release to date. His first full-length record fronting a band, Artistic Vice's sound may be lo-fi by most standards, but compared to Johnston's earlier recordings it seems downright slick. With the opening declaration of "My Life Is Starting Over," Johnston and company tear through 16 tunes that range from joyous and hopeful to sad and disturbing with unfettered garage-band fervor, attempting to cut through the troubled murk of the past several years of his life. Many of Johnston's usual themes are present here, from his undying yet unrequited love for Laurie, the wife of an undertaker, to Caspar [sic] the Friendly Ghost and battles with his own internal demons. The "Eye Band" does a credible job throughout, especially on the celebratory rockers "My Life Is Starting Over" and "I Killed the Monster," the uneasy edginess of "The Startling Facts," the obsessive "Love of My Life," and the garage folk of "I Know Caspar," providing them with a ragged but fitting frame. On the other hand, anything requiring any sort of subtlety seems to get lost in this straightforward approach. Tunes such as the otherwise irresistible pop of "Honey I Sure Miss You" and "Tell Me Now" fail to reach their full potential, while elsewhere "It's Got to Be Good" lacks a necessary finesse and "Laurie" and "I Feel So High" seem somewhat clunky. Still, Kramer does a good job of capturing Johnston at this transitional period in both his career (this would be his last LP before signing with Atlantic Records) and his life. Artistic Vice is a consistently strong collection of songs that at times recalls the innocence of Johnston's work prior to his breakdown, while at the same time dealing both with where he had been and where he was heading.
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AllMusic Review by Brett Hartenbach