Review: Kurt Vile’s album is expansive mood music

Ryan Morris

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

Before the release of “Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze,” most critics interpreted Kurt Vile as a stereotypical stoner/drifter.

This interpretation mostly fit the low-key, shimmering acoustic rock Vile released under his name.

Albums like the critically acclaimed “Smoke Ring for My Halo” projected a lonely, slightly paranoid persona, augmented by Vile’s rambling lyrics and hazy, lo-fi production.

On “Pretty Daze,” however, Vile stepped it up a notch, delivering an assured, confident collection of breezy folk that proves he’s got a little more up his sleeve.

For one, the songs on this album aren’t afraid to unfurl beyond typical pop-song length. Four of the album’s tracks clock in at more than seven minutes, with the opening and closing tracks reaching around 10 minutes.

Where a song like the semi-title-track “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” might have served as a shorter interlude on previous albums, here it’s stretched out to an atmospheric slow-burn.

The result is an album heavy on sustained mood, but it’s decidedly upbeat, vivid and colorful.

Musically, “Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze” works best as background sound. Its dreamy vibe is unobtrusive and executed exceedingly well, making it perfect for summer drives.

Upon closer inspection, “Pretty Daze” is a multifaceted record, carrying often-heavy lyrical themes about integrity in art and everyday life.

This concept elevates “Pretty Daze” above the drifting stoner-friendly sound of Vile’s past, revealing him as a true powerhouse songwriter.

“Was All Talk,” driven by an insistent rhythm that gives energetic life to Vile’s guitar arpeggios, directly addresses the unfairness of a perceived slacker persona.

The bare, drum-less “Too Hard” is a manifesto of sorts for intentional living coexisting with moments of spontaneity and whimsy.

The 10-minute closer “Goldtone” is one of Vile’s best songs to date. Its chiming, carefree chord progression belies the song’s message of deep commitment to making meaningful art.

Vile breaks up these longer, more introspective stretches with fantastic rockers like “KV Crimes” and “Shame Chamber.”

Both of these songs deal with similar subject matter but present it with a revved-up energy akin to both early Lou Reed and modern garage rockers like Ty Segall.

“Pretty Daze” is not an easily pigeonholed record, which is likely exactly what Vile intended.

The widescreen production is saturated with a kind of sunny psychedelic, and Vile’s vocal melodies resemble classic country more often than not.

It’s saying something that this album sustains a consistent, expressive atmosphere over its massive 70-minute running time.

“Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze” is likely too long and repetitive to appeal to all listeners, but it stands as an impressive, cohesive statement from an artist clearly bent on making a name for himself.

Rating: Three out of four stars.

Story: COLIN MOORE, A&E Reporter