Why Kurt Vile is the Best Singer-Songwriter in America
I’ve never really been that into singer songwriters. I don’t really like the whole “spill my emotions” with an acoustic guitar in my hands deal. My favorite band in high school was The Pixies — about as far away as you can get from the singer songwriter ideal. I didn’t even really like Elliot Smith, even though all my friends raved about him. But one songwriter who I’ve finally been able to get behind is Kurt Vile, who I think is the best singer songwriter in America right now. He speaks to issues that affect most people, not just the ones who paint their nails black every day. He speaks to issues like our need to fit in, and our constant feeling of being an outsider nonetheless.
His honest brand of songwriting is endearing to some but too revealing to others. On his 2011 critically-acclaimed album Smoke Ring For my Halo he wrote about such issues as selling out and being a little creepy when it comes to looking at girls. But Vile does everything with good intentions at heart. On “Runner Ups,” the heartfelt eighth track on Smoke Ring, he sings about losing his best friends and not finding good enough replacements. “My best friend’s long gone,” he says. “But I’ve got runner ups, yeah.”
The song represents more a soul search than a complaint about the people he now spends his time with. “If it ain’t working take a whiz on the world,” he sings with an air of humor. “An entire nation drinking from a dirty cup.” Vile can tie his own problems into deeper ideas afflicting not just himself but the people around him. He does this to a tee on “Society Is My Friend,” which represents as close to an indictment of the country as he gets to on the album. “Society is all around,” he sings. “Hear the beautiful sounds of all the high-pitched squeals, ecstatic brilliance at its finest … it takes me down.” To me, Vile is critiquing all the opinions being brandied about, the talking heads out there that have to make their voices heard no matter what they’re saying.
Vile is someone who, in the end, seeks comfort above all else, and is more of a bedroom artist in the vein of Bradford Cox of Atlas Sound and Deerhunter fame. The two of them have become good friends, collaborating on the expansive, atmospheric track “Freak Train.” The track is simply about feeling bullied on a train, but on songs like these, Vile’s songwriting truly stands out. Vile is at his best when talking about everyday things, or when he’s in reflective mode. And it’s in these everyday things where he can speak most to a millennial's situation. He writes about not wanting to go to work, or feeling too hungover to start the day, or just wanting to be held by his girl after a tough day. And though we like to think that artists will address ideas more transcendent than these simple things, Vile turns out to be an artist with whom we can most relate; that’s the type of artist we should look towards most to give us a helping hand when times are rough. Vile’s new album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, is due out this spring and will be his third album released by Matador.