Wakin on a Pretty Daze is Philly rocker Kurt Vile’s 5th solo LP and new best. It is marked by maturity, craft, and confidence, evidence that Vile successfully cannibalized all the parts of his sturdy back catalog — the howling guitars, bedroom pop, his quizzical, drawling voice, and even the more fully-figured stuff on the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo. This new album isn’t so much a rebirth but a refinement, a peak, an aesthetic streamlining that results in the songwriter’s most clear and modern vision.
Visually, proof that Vile has truly come into his own is delivered via the album’s cover. On past records, Vile is pictured against an urban backdrop, but here, his words are painted into the architecture itself (thanks to Philly graffiti lifer ESPO), infiltrating the very fabric of his beloved hometown. When he closes a song called “Was All Talk” with the lyric “makin’ music is easy: watch me,” he’s not being arrogant or running defense against shit-talkers. Rather, Vile is shifting the focus from the actual ins and outs of his music to this album’s chief preoccupation: the responsibility and yearning for family, friends, and home. This approach works well–Wakin On A Pretty Daze never sounds fleeting, propped up high by strong, determined songwriting.
Vile’s unmistakable lattice of guitars, picked and strummed, is still very much present, as are the echoes and whirring bouts of noise. But that aspect of his music has grown up too. His 2008 debut, Constant Hitmaker, was like looking through a backyard telescope at a fuzzy, tilted planet, all blue and beautiful, a perfect, contained image of something quite far off. Wakin seems more first-hand and hi-def, like an up-close flyby of some overwhelmingly majestic nebula, one in which the listener is occasionally turned around in a long stretch of space fog.