BY STEVE WILSON
Kurt Vile’s former outfit The War on Drugs was, in part, a modern evocation of Neil Young ‘s first solo album, and Buffalo Springfield performances like “Expecting to Fly” and “Broken Arrow” – lulling, dream-like, open and enveloping simultaneously. Adam Granduciel, architect of and Vile’s chief collaborator in The War on Drugs, contributed to Vile’s breakthrough solo release, 2011’s Smoke Ring for my Halo. He’s absent on Vile’s new record, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, and the sound is at once consistent and, well … more – literally, seven out of eleven songs are over five minutes long, where only three (again out of eleven) on Halo clocked in over five minutes. Producer John Agnello returns from Halo, content to let things flow Vile’s way, capturing his gently mesmerizing songs.
Pretty is atmospheric, and repetitive. Vile spins out entrancing, and trance-like songs based on simple chord progressions and finger-picked themes (think John Fahey). For all their repetition and length, Vile’s casually poetic tales for anomic burnouts are perfectly set within the strum and drone of his musical settings. His melodies meander respecting meter, but always seem to fall into place.
A thirty-three year old man with a wife and family, Vile still sounds like he’s not wholly at home in this world. In recent interviews he protests to the contrary concerning allegations of his drug use, but he sure litters his songs with references to dope. In “KV Crimes” he suggests getting “a load of this with a load on,” the song a wine from Neil Young’s Everybody Know This is Nowhere vintage. For the Sea Change evoking “Never Run Away,” Vile refers to “takin’ dope to cope,” his anxious words belying the confidence of the refrain, while the song’s appealing sound is pure stoner bubblegum.
It’s not all about dope. “Was All Talk” is self-therapy – Vile is “stalked by God,” but “makin’ music is easy.” He obsesses about friends, Alex and Mark, in a “Girl Called Alex,” sounding akin to Deerhunter; Vile intoning “I wanna live all the time in my fantasy infinity” while confessing he “thinks about them (Alex & Mark) all the time.” The song is a “Blue Jay Way” of sedate, dark places, a spiraling guitar solo crawling out from the song’s claustrophobia.
“Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” finds Vile ignoring the “phone ringing off the shelf,” more concerned with “what kind of wisecrack (he’s) gonna drop along the way.” On “Shame Chamber” his “woos,” vaguely descended from “Sympathy for the Devil,” shock with their exhortative quality amid the song’s of “I’m Only Sleeping” drowsiness. There’s a gentle, somnolent solipsism at the heart of Vile’s vision, yet it is strangely seductive.
On the drawn out closer “Goldtone” Vile sings “I might be adrift but I’m still alert; concentrate my hurt into a gold tone.” Pretty zen, dude. It’s a knowing distillation and self-description of the method to Vile’s madness. Guitars are picked, strummed, attacked for full biting solo value. Vile’s drawl communicates isolation with a contradictory urgency. Somehow, Pretty’s spiritual resignation sounds like an invitation.
DOWNLOAD: “Shame Chamber,” “Goldtone”