Words by Guy Tonkin
Release Date – 8th April 2013
Label – Matador
Rating – 8/10
Kurt Vile’s second kid was born while he was mastering his latest album: Wakin On A Pretty Daze. This fact, while normally part of the biographical gumpf that doesn’t really add anything to reviews, apart from proof of the most basic sort of research, is actually pretty important (and lovely, babies are adorable, right)?
But first of all, the album is great. When I first heard it I was erring towards simply ‘solid’ or ‘fine’ (a standard 6/10). But I was an idiot moments ago. As I let Vile’s odd sound – which ends up halfway between a Pavement single played at 33rpm (‘KV Crimes’) and Mark Oliver Everett ( on a relaxed day) singing lost Dylan songs (‘Too Hard’) – wash over me like baptismal water from the font of Kim Gordan and J Mascis, I realised my mistake. The album, which is just shy of seventy minutes, is made by small touches: the scream in Shame Chamber, lifted from Nebraska era Springsteen, the song named after everybody’s favourite basketball playing Labrador: ‘Air Bud’, Vile’s vague rewriting of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ in ‘A Girl Named Alex’, and (probably most important of all) the false moments of clarity.
“Making music is easy / Watch me” he sings on ‘Was All Talk’. In an interview with Line of Best Fit he kind of backs this idea up, describing his approach to writing ten minute songs simply as penning a ‘verse, chorus [and] bridge-y bit’. But if you dig a bit deeper a picture of Vile emerges as a man so crippled by perfectionism that trying to make anything more complex would be the task of a more geological time frame. He tells The Guardian that he finds being in the studio almost ‘dangerous’, as he could play ‘forever’, before saying he wouldn’t dream of putting a record out if ‘there is one little bit of [a] song that’s not right’.
So here we have Vile in the studio awaiting the birth of his second daughter, the self avowed perfectionist happily writing song after song that clocks in at over six minutes (there are six of these that made it onto this eleven track album). This doesn’t seem like a man eager to get away and be with his family. Lyrically he explores this problem – ‘Pure Pain’ seems on the surface about his frustration at being separated from his family, but there is one moment, so tantalisingly clipped, where he seems to sing: “when i’m working babe / I want to wish you were here” – which is as much as saying I know I should, but I don’t.
Similarly, he sings “you can say I been pretty most all around / but honey I ain’t going nowhere”, on the epic album opener and manifesto ‘Waking On A Pretty Day’. This idea of not going anywhere pops up again in an interview with Stereogum, when he is talking about how happy he is to be snowed in with his family. But in ‘Waking…’ that’s not where he is, and maybe not where he wants to be. He is away, making songs.
Where does Vile want to be, in the studio or with his family? This is the tension at the centre of the highly opaque album and seems to be something he is always asking himself. In ‘Kv Crimes’ he sings “I think I’m ready to claim what’s mine, / rightfully”. We’ll have to wait and see if this is his place in the indie rock hall at fame, or his place at home, by the fire.
(NB I’m sure Kurt Vile is a great father)