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Canada has been good to indie music over the past decade. The likes of Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene have, without being spectacular or ground-breaking, contributed diligently and, as perennial winners, have even managed to put the maligned Juno Awards on the map. The latter of said musical armies has served as a platform for several Canadian acts such as Feist, Stars, Apostle of Hustle and of course Emily Haines and her band Metric.
Though Haines has fronted Metric since 1999, the road to glory has been a long one - most likely because of a collective stubbornness that has seen the foursome reluctant to change much throughout the release of five albums. That’s a hard, heart-wrenching statement to make, as Haines has more grace, poise and musical zeal in one strand of her sunny blonde hair than a Gaga or a Riri has in her whole body.
Synthetica begins with the simmering synths of ‘Artificial Nocturne’; a reflective opener which leads nicely into the leisurely paced, effeminate rebellion of ‘Youth without Youth’. Pop rears its menacing head in ‘Speed the Collapse’ but is saved by the dramatic effect of pianos and the echoes of guitars, though ‘Breathing Underwater’ isn’t so lucky.
Things get grimy with ‘Dreams So Real’, though; deep base synths threaten to explode into a cacophony of sounds but don’t. The teasing continues on ‘Lost Kitten’ which sees Haines deliver vocals like she would in some sort of seductively endearing burlesque show. It’s also the sort of song suitable for the end of a heart-warming coming-of-age film, as the troubled protagonist rides a bike down a suburban street straight towards his future.
‘The Void’ and title track ‘Synthetica’ continue in the same indie-pop vain, though the latter of those elements is much more predominant. ‘Clone’ does a pretty good job of introducing elements of an eighties ballad into the mix, before Lou Reed lends a hand on ‘The Wunderlast’. Although a Lou Reed-Metric collaboration is like sticking a square peg into a round hole, his eerie, deep, raw voice adds a completely different dimension. Haines and co would have done well to end the album there, because the completely unremarkable ‘Nothing but Time’ seems exactly that – nothing but time.
There’s a very unambiguous innocence to Metric’s approach – maybe deriving from some sort of Canadian purity. There’s nothing complex or experimental about Synthetica; just raw unadulterated indie rock.
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.
You've got to love Kurt Vile. Whether or not you like his songs or general aesthetics, no one can deny that he has mastered the ‘like, I’m just an ordinary dude’ artistic ethos exceptionally well. And not only has he been able to carry that grungy/punk torch into the modern world of indie music, he’s been able to do it as himself; a solo guy, a ‘singer-songwriter’, in a time when the very notion of such is enough to make one cringe.
On Wakin on a Pretty Daze, not much has changed since Vile released his debut album with Matador Records, Childish Prodigy, back in 2009. Vile is still creating acoustic guitar, ‘singer-songwriter’ songs punctuated with beautiful guitar lines and lazy but seductive melodies. Vile’s also still singing half-pedestrian/half-stoned-out lyrics about the people he meets, the bars he frequents, the planet he lives on, or the squalor of his apartment that tend to turn everyday banalities and words into epic events – at least in the eyes of a stoner.
Comparing Childish Prodigy’s lead single ‘He’s Alright’ with Pretty Daze’s ‘Wakin of a Pretty Day', it’s clear that Vile’s still trying to say: “Hey Guys. Chill out. Life’s alright. If I can do, it you can do it – right? Oh, yeah, and thanks for listening.”
There’s an instant soothing that comes from Vile’s sound; especially in Cairo, when one has to hop into a car twice a day to join the static rush hour traffic – it’s the perfect music to zone out to.
But unlike many of his contemporaries, Vile is a slow burning candle. Even before his debut album, the songs he released were pretty similar just with lower production quality. In a recent interview, Vile explained that “I know what to do to become the next big thing, but I have no interest in doing that. I want to do this my whole life.” The slow and subtle evolution of Vile’s albums – noticeable to probably only the most voracious listeners – is testament to this.
However, this desire to just cruise through his career on his own terms removes that element of surprise and heavy experimentation from Vile’s work that would really help make it stand out album to album. But at the same time, this aesthetic loyalty is also a large part of his charm.
Therefore, as a result, none of the albums really have any peaks, or troughs, and Pretty Daze is no different.
The entire album is one long, approximately 70 minute, beautiful moment, but there are no real fireworks, no explosive flashes. Stand out tracks are certainly the opener and title track, ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’, as it sweeps the listener off their feet straight away and plunges them into the world of Kurt Vile.
Another notable track is ‘Shame Chamber’ which uses a steady head-nodding groove in order to bouncily deliver lyrics about mankind’s shortcomings as a finger pointing, shame inducing species. “Shame on you, shame on me, and shame on us, for feeling bad in the best way,” says Vile.
But as said, there are no money shots on Pretty Daze, only one long smooth, sensual session. Pretty Daze has also arrived just in time for spring, when hopefully, the daze that Cairenes have come to wake up to becomes a little brighter.