Posts Tagged ‘indie rock


Best New Albums of 2013! #12: Kurt Vile – Waking on a Pretty Daze

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011′s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010′s list, click here.

#12: Kurt Vile – Waking on a Pretty Daze

At this point, my love for Neil Young is pretty well established. Not only do I think the world of his albums, but I’ve even written about his bootlegs. Hell, I even included one in this year-end list. So, I really mean it as a genuine compliment when I say Kurt Vile’s new album reminds me of my favorite Young records.

It’s not because they both write gorgeous sort-of folk, sort-of rock songs. Or because they both solo a bunch. It’s more of a feeling I get from this: laid-back, vaguely out of focus and reckless, but also with same kind of introspective songwriting.

It’s been interesting to watch Vile’s solo career progress. Back on Childish Prodigy, he had fuzzed-out rock like Hunchback and moved to a cleaner, more pop/folk sound for 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo. Here, he’s found a bit of a middle ground: the songs are fairly straightforward, with a foot firmly in guitar rock, but aren’t either as gritty or as bright as his past LPs.

Sometimes he sounds a little like J Mascis: KV Crimes could almost fit right in alongside Dinosaur Jr’s best. At others, his jammed-out folk rock reminds me of Young’s best: see the nine-minute title track, with its guitar peaks and valleys between verses. But he’s often found a middle ground where he sounds a little bit like a bunch of people, but mostly like nobody else in indie rock today. Tracks like Girl Called Alex, Goldtone or Shame Chamber are instantly recognizable as Vile’s music. And they’re some of the best rockers of 2013, too.

It’s not just the playing, either: sometimes, Vile’s lyrics show an introspective, questioning personality most rockers wouldn’t dare show. “Don’t know why I ever go away,” he sings on the title track, “It’s hard to explain my love in these days.” It’s hard to imagine, say, Vampire Weekend singing something that personal.

With Wakin on a Pretty Daze, Vile’s released his best album yet, showing both aspects of his alternately hard rocking and fingerpicking, folksy sides. It’s packed with great guitar playing and accessible, even for people who’d think someone who goes by the name Vile is a mohawked British punker; needless to say, even my dad likes this. And he owns almost everything Crazy Horse appears on. Recommended.


The Time Meloy Was Menacing

A few days ago over at Stereogum, that home of lists, listicles and slideshows, there was a piece about the top ten Decemberists songs. One assumes the list comes as the steady stream of Top Ten of Whomever well begins to dry up, since it’s not like those people were ever especially popular with anyone who didn’t own cardigans.

Me? I own a cardigan and I’ll admit I’m a sucker for some of their music. I won’t defend how overly-wordy Colin Meloy gets and I’ll admit I think The King is Dead is hot trash, to my ears sounding derivative of R.E.M. but without any of the fun. And that’s probably the one Decemberists album anyone knows. It’s certainly the only time I’ve heard them on the radio.

The list is, as lists usually are, completely wrong. I’m not going to bore you by listing my personal top ten – I don’t even think I have one – but I’ll point out a glaring omission: The Rake’s Song, off 2009’s The Hazards of Love. That album’s a bit of a mess, too, but for about three minutes, Meloy managed to pull off the near impossible: sound menacing.

Told in the first person, The Rake’s Song is a gothic fiction along the lines of Wapole’s Otranto or Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udelpho. The narrator gets married young to a lady he wants to fuck; a rake was a person who used to sleep around with unmarried women. “No more a rake and no more a batchelor,” he says, more concerned with his social standing than anything resembling a relationship. It’s worth noting he never once actually describes his bride, let alone gives her a name.

Almost immediately, the wife starts having kids, or as the narrator puts it, “her womb started spitting out babies,” spoken with a sense of disgust. He was probably a shitty husband, barely remembering anything about his kids (only the first gets any kind of identifying figure) and doesn’t seem too torn up when his wife dies in childbirth. Hell, for him it’s an excuse to start all over again: “All that I wanted was the freedom of a new life / So my burden I began to divest.”

He goes on a brutal child-killing spree, poisoning one, drowning another. When his oldest resists, he burns him alive. He punctuates each act of murder with a shout of Alright! and speaks in a tone like you or I would talk about the weather. By song’s end, the husband’s killed off his family and is living “easy and free,” unbothered by his crimes.

On the album, a concept album, Meloy’s written something of an overwrought story. The Rake’s the villain and (spoiler!) his children come back as ghosts and blah blah, nobody really cares. Christgau said it best when he said “His plot is so preposterous and unempathetic it’s more the appearance of a plot, or an elaborate joke about a plot.” But the failings of that album are beside the point here: for once in his career, Meloy – the tweedy, professorial-looking wordsmith of indie rock – was able to finally hide behind one of his songs. The Rake’s Song was three minutes of menace, the casual boasting of a serial killer. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from Tom Waits or The Band, not the guy who sang a love song about Valerie Plame.

How it didn’t make the list is beyond me; it’s certainly the only song I’d want to hear Waits cover. And if that’s not a measure for a Top Ten Songs list, I dunno what is.


YouTube Pick of the Moment

Matt and Kim – Yea Yeah

Matt and Kim are a fun little act, this is a fun little video. Like their music, it’s minimalist, clever and pretty cool. I think Bob Dylan said it best with “It takes a lot to laugh, especially with a plate of pasta to the face.”