Kurt Vile has been riding the freak train for his entire career, but on 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, his act got noticeably calmer, his lyrics riddled with non sequiturs, and his sound a hell of a lot more stoned. Wakin on a Pretty Daze, Vile’s fifth album, suggests the Philly rocker is well aware of what he’s become and what his audience wants from him. He plays various roles throughout the new album: He’s a self-described constant hitmaker on the autobiographical “Never Run Away,” singing about a pact between two lovers over a bouncy pop track with a catchy chorus, resulting in the most accessible song Vile’s ever recorded, and he plays Neil Young tributary on the Crazy Horse-inspired “KV Crimes,” singing, “I’m ready to claim what’s mine,” knowing full well that the sounds he’s making aren’t his own.
It’s this self-awareness, though, that’s uniquely Vile. On the reflective “Was All Talk,” he plays the quintessential ’80s rocker, singing over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on Born in the U.S.A. “There was a time in my life when they thought I was all talk,” Vile sings, an admission that some of his early songs, both with the war on drugs and in his solo output, may have rambled on, seemingly never-ending. And on a simpler level, Vile is expressing sheer joy at having finally made it in the music world, no longer a man that’s just all talk.
Vile plays that rambling rocker on Wakin on a Pretty Daze’s bookends, which prove to be the album’s defining tracks. On the nine-and-a-half-minute opener (and sort-of title track) “Wakin on a Pretty Day,” Vile sets up the rest of the album: “Rising at the crack of dawn/I gotta think about what wisecrack I’m going to drop along the way today.” While Vile certainly cracks wise plenty throughout the album, the 10-and-a-half-minute closer, “Goldtone,” provides the most ridiculous wisecrack, as Vile laughably claims that he doesn’t “touch the stuff,” referring to marijuana. The title of the song is self-aware, too, as “Goldtone” sounds like a blogger’s invented genre used to describe Vile’s music. But more importantly, it’s Vile’s statement of purpose: “I might be adrift, but I’m still alert.” He certainly has our attention.