Philadelphia songsmith Kurt Vile's 2011 album Smoke Ring for My Halo was a definitive shift for the artist away from home-recorded overexposed fuzz pop toward a more sprawling, textural, and most markedly introspective style. The follow-up, fifth album Wakin on a Pretty Daze, continues in this direction, but pushes the changes begun on Halo with even more articulate production, extended exploration in lengthy songs, and even deeper looks inward, if all approached through Vile's one-of-a-kind fog. Beginning with the nine-plus-minute "Wakin on a Pretty Day," the album immediately takes the mantle from its predecessor, offering up wistful interplay between acoustic and electric guitar tones, Vile's dour mumbled vocals, and an overall emotional sense caught somewhere between the hope and promise of youth and the exhaustion of everyday life. It's this deceptively complex perspective cloaked in seemingly lunkheaded guitar heroics that makes Vile so interesting and helps keep the compositions on Pretty Daze captivating even as many of them stretch past the six-minute mark. "KV Crimes" comes on with a lazy classic rock riff but beneath its stony shuffle and sneery vocals lies a heart of both melody and a palpable sense of diminished excitement being reborn. Longer tracks like "Girl Called Alex" and "Goldtone" capture the dark wistfulness of Where You Been-era Dinosaur Jr. or the dreamy driftiness of Neil Young at his most guitar-centric peaks. Much like his former/sometimes band the War on Drugs, there's an undercurrent of working-class rock à la Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen here (Vile even drops the lyric "Springsteen... pristine" in one song). However, with the spaced-out vaporous jams of Wakin on a Pretty Daze, it becomes clear that Kurt Vile isn't aiming to ape or even update the canon of classic guitar-based songwriters, but is very much his generation's chapter of the evolution of rock. Easily his most focused and accessible work, Pretty Daze is the strongest so far in a chain of releases that seem to suggest there are even greater heights to be reached.
Wakin on a Pretty Daze Review
by Fred Thomas