Tag Archive | Leonard Cohen

Recommended Listening: Kurt Vile, Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile Wakin On A Pretty Daze CD Cover
Album Cover Art By Steve Powers!

When it comes to modern music, not much impresses me these days. If you look back over the past few years at any Top 10 Albums list I might have compiled – in those years where I was even able to cobble together such a list at all – you’ll see it’s comprised partly of comeback records by classic rockers, greatest hits packages or tribute albums that revisit the material of a legendary artist. That’s rather pathetic, I know, for a writer who once embraced the tagline ‘Rock Critic at Large,’ but it is what it is. I don’t apologize for being unable to shake the feeling that the best years for popular music are, for the most part, 30 – or even 40 – years behind us.

It if it weren’t for Australia’s Tame Impala, who’ve managed to harness a sound comparable to Led Zeppelin on downers, or Canada’s The Sheepdogs, who pay homage to the seventies better than most bands did back in the ‘70s, there probably wouldn’t be one new band I could name in the past few years whose records gave me any kind of a thrill at all. And then there’s an enigma like Kurt Vile; a singer/songwriter/guitarist whose Murmur-esque vocal delivery is coupled with an amazing finesse for musical arrangements and an ability to turn a phrase that rivals Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. On Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze, his follow-up to 2011′s brilliant Smoke Ring for My Halo, Vile once again completely and totally blows my mind.

In search of a contemporary reference, I’d say that Kurt Vile keeps company with fellow singer/songwriter and innovator Joseph Arthur, who possesses an equal gift for infusing seductive aural melancholia with an exhilarating emotional transcendence. Like Arthur, Vile’s lyrics are wickedly introspective and his knack for finely tuned word economy is juxtaposed with jam-heavy arrangements that indicate Vile is in no hurry to get where he’s going. The nine-minute-plus title track launches the disc with Vile’s countrified acoustic strumming that carry his dreamlike musings about what might be in store for the next 18 or so waking hours, as circular guitar patterns draw the listener deeply into the artist’s head. In fact, “Head Music” is not an entirely inappropriate label for these eleven aural journeys that play out over the course of a full, blissful hour.

And just in case you drifted away, the comparatively strident opening chords of “KV Crimes” jolts you back to consciousness before the hand percussion-driven, traveling rhythm of “Was All Talk” swallows you whole with its limitless gorgeousness. Over five albums worth of material, I don’t know if Vile has written a better song than this. “There was a time in my life when they thought I was all talk,” is such an exquisitely personal fuck you to naysayers, while remaining ambiguous enough to allow the listener to adopt the song as his or her own anthem of self realization. And when he sings, “Making music is easy – watch me,” one could believe that this song effortlessly flowed right through Vile. Seriously, when it comes to amazing songwriting, “Was All Talk” is right up there with “All The Young Dudes” and “Shake Some Action.” The fact that Vile lets a song that could have been neatly wrapped up in three and a half minutes continue on for over seven makes it all the more bittersweet when it finally comes to an end.

What’s most amazing about Wakin On A Pretty Daze is that every song on the record is that good. Each track packs a jaw-dropping Oh Wow Factor that makes my head explode. “Girl Called Alex” mines the minor chord gloom in a way that recalls a meatier version of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” or Dylan’s “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” Showcasing Vile’s flair for changing up arrangements, “Pure Pain” alternates between what I’d call a baroque stomp and a waltz. The remaining tracks could be summed up as follows: great, great, great, great, great. I recommend you pick up a copy of Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze and start developing your own relationship with a disc that I am just going to go ahead and call the Album of The Year.

Grade: A+

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Recommended Listening: Matt Boroff, Filling In The Cracks EP

Matt Boroff Filling In The Cracks EP Cover

The phrase “Visual Music” is one that’s rarely applied to any new bands that cross my transom these days. The last time I hauled those words out of the Rock-Critic-Speak vault was maybe in a review of Mercury Rev or Barry Adamson (two artists well immersed in the domain of soundtrack composition), and that was years ago. But that elusive label fits very snugly on a recently released 4-song EP, Filling in the Cracks, from singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist Matt Boroff – a recently-discovered-by-me artist who, while completely new to my ears, has evidently been making adventurous music for twenty freakin’ years! Wow, who knew? As I learned in a series of email exchanges with the artist this past weekend, even Boroff refers to himself as a “Gold Medalist in the Best Kept Secret Olympics.” I would like to help change that.

A critique of one of Matt’s past recordings, 2008’s Elevator Ride, makes reference to the music “conjuring images of Spaghetti Westerns and sweeping desert landscapes” – and that last sentence fragment on its own should sufficiently compel you to buy / download everything the guy has ever committed to recorded media. But what leapt immediately to my mind when I heard the EP’s title track was “David Lynch Movie”; probably because “Filling In The Cracks” sounds like an eloquent modern hybrid of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Theme From Twin Peaks” and some of that (pardon my French) mind-tweaking shit that Barry Adamson laid down for Lynch’s completely under-worshiped cinematic masterpiece, Lost Highway. Poetic lyrics are all well and good, but when it comes to effectively creating a soundtrack for the movies in your head, it’s all about the sound. With Matt Boroff, there are no compromises in this arena.

Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones, Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in the West, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, and Portishead’s Live venture, Roseland, NYC are four albums that Matt listened to and was most influenced by while working on this EP, so you can see (and hear) that he has top shelf taste in music to begin with. And in the tradition of one-man band geniuses, he played all instruments on the CD including guitar, bass, organ, piano and hand percussion, with assistance on the drum kit from drummer Little Konzett, who played on all four tracks. (Just as an interesting aside, Konzett is also a well-reputed recording engineer based in Austria, where Boroff now lives). How has Matt Boroff flown under my radar for twenty years? I can’t figure it out.

When you have the songwriting chops that Boroff has, it’s not hard to get four great songs on a four-song EP, but these songs are really good. The anguished, affecting “Garbage Man” features guest vocals by Screaming Trees front man Mark Lanegan (the only other guest artist on the disc besides Konzett), whom Matt met and subsequently became friendly with when he opened for a 2011 gig by Mark and Isobel Campbell in Vienna. “After my set,” Matt offers, “Mark approached me backstage and said very complimentary things, which meant a lot to me, since I’ve been a longtime fan of his.” With their complimentary vocal styles, the collaboration between Boroff and Lanegan is perfectly matched. There’s also a rousing, pub sing-along, “All Going Down With The Ship,” that flaunts guitar work recalling Greg Lake’s acoustic fingering on “From The Beginning.” The EP wraps up with “In Our Loneliness,” which is sort of a reverse love song with amazing, wistful, haunting lyrics. This EP is the definition of “Listening Pleasure.”

But getting back to how it sounds: what ties these songs all together in a bundle of ecstatic transcendence is Boroff’s palette of resonant, brooding guitar tones. Matt explained that the guitar tones on the album engage directly with the space that surrounds them. “I’m more interested in using the guitar as a tool to evoke some kind of mood or atmosphere than I am with this or that particular amp,” he says. “That’s always the guiding principle for whatever the tone ends up being.” Matt used only two guitars throughout the recording; a Fender Cyclone and a Martin acoustic. “When it comes to getting the tones I want to hear,” he continues, “I’ll just keep changing the way I play the guitar until it sounds right to me.” Boroff will often try to mimic the sounds of other instruments by changing the picking position or pickups, and using them in different combinations to emulate sounds of instruments he doesn’t own, such as a dobro or a pedal steel guitar.” Resourceful!

Recommended if you like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan or any of the other artists mention in this review, Matt Boroff’s Filling in the Cracks EP is available now on disc via CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mattboroff) for just $6.00 (what a bargain!), and for download at iTunes and Amazon.com. Like Matt’s FaceBook Fan Page and download one of his songs for free at This Link!

GRADE: A+