Aquarium Drunkard Presents: 2 (Very Different) Must Hear April Albums
Kurt Vile: Wakin On A Pretty Daze
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.
This cloudiness–Vile’s psychedelia–is quite different than the classical “tune in and drop out” variety. It may just be the musical vehicle he’s most comfortable with… he’s got a working man’s issues (“when I’m away out there/ I wanna go home/ when I am home/ my head stays out there”) that he responds to with everyman mantras: “I will promise not to smoke too much and/ I will promise not to party too hard… too hard… too hard… it’s too hard.” Many of these new songs are repetitive and long form, but Wakin proves that the longer KV songs are the best and that the repetition is at once immersive, sobering and contemplative. Subtle, unpredictable shifts in Vile’s strum and hum feel like serendipitous “eureka” moments after thinking too long about the same thing–listen to about half way through the nine and a half minute opener where the tempo picks up after Vile sings ”I gotta think about what wisecracks/ I’m gonna drop along the way today.” See, Vile’s got a funny bone, but Pretty Daze is mostly pretty serious, an earnest and intense outpouring.
Raised Omara Moctar in Agadez, Niger, Bombino has quickly matured into a young master of the desert-blues. The singer and guitarist got his start as the protégé of Saharan guitar legend Haja Bebe, and eventually Bombino developed his own robust take on the Tuareg style which pushed him onto the international stage. Bombino’s latest recording,Nomad, came out this week on Nonesuch and was produced by Dan Auerbach. The pairing makes good sense. Bombino’s style of guitar playing shares some musical kinship or root tenet with Auerbach’s, especially when one considers The Black Key’s early infatuation with the hypnotic Mississippi bluesman, Junior Kimbrough.
Nomad plumbs the depths of Bombino’s groove rather than its repetitive, meditative width. This approach evokes a fresh energy and heavy feel from Bombino’s sound. Longtime listeners will recognize a few songs and guitar motifs on Nomad from his previous recordings–Agadez and Sublime Frequencies’ Guitars from Agadez, Vol. 2–but the fully figured arrangements and Nashville studio flourishes manage a new texture for Bombino’s oft-pondered musical gestures. A few of Auerbach’s studio fetishes, new (vibes and steel guitar) and old (Farfisa organ) are folded into the mix, and the parts combine in a way that sounds both cosmopolitan and mythologizes his remarkable story and musical foundation.
ABOUT AQUARIUM DRUNKARD
Based in Los Angeles, Justin Gage is the founder of the long-running, eclectic music blog Aquarium Drunkard. In addition to the blog you can catch his weekly radio show, Fridays, on SIRIUS XMU satellite radio -- noon-2pm EST.
Gage is also the founder of Autumn Tone Records and works as a music consultant and supervisor.