We’re a week into September and so far summer has not shown any signs of slowing down. Summer weather means relaxed vibes – for the average fan of popular music, today’s country artists are the essential soundtrack to a warm, peaceful afternoon.
Unfortunately, country music as a whole is constantly taking criticism for unoriginal lyrical themes and a lack of musical diversity. You’re probably tired of hearing people bemoan country for relying heavily on the “back of my pickup, beer in hand and country girl at my side” imagery.
For an outsider to country, it’s difficult to distinguish Tim McGraw from Luke Bryan from Florida-Georgia Line since they largely write about the same topics. This is a legitimate criticism, but I understand that people love country for its feel-good, low-maintenance aesthetic.
If you’re a fan of country’s chill atmosphere but want to search a bit deeper, look no further than artists like Real Estate and Kurt Vile.
Real Estate is a band formed with the sole purpose of channeling the breeziest of summer vibes – and quite honestly, there are few rock acts who pull it off better. You can select any track from their 2009 self-titled debut all the way through 2014’s stellar “Atlas,” and it will carry you to wide-open beaches on a slow, warm wind.
A good starting point would be their more accessible, driven singles such as “It’s Real” and “Talking Backwards.” These songs are simple and straightforward, but drenched in melody with a vintage approach. A song like “The Bend” is carried along by an extremely pleasant lead guitar before giving rise to a sun-kissed, gentle ending.
In regards to lyrics, Real Estate prefers to write upbeat yet nostalgic love songs, accentuated by images of lush, green pathways and distant, fading horizons. Their sound even shines through the low-fi production quality of catchy songs like “Beach Comber” and “Suburban Dogs.”
Real Estate effectively captures the relaxed nature of country music with a better sense of melody and without the superficial topics that garner widespread criticism.
Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile (and his band, The Violators) take a slightly different approach to “chill” with a sound that’s uniquely his own. Opposite of Real Estate’s tight, straightforward songs, Vile is prone to going on extended jams with serious Southern overtones.
An essential track to introduce you to Vile’s sound would be “Walkin on a Pretty Day,” a song tinged with crisp guitars and Vile’s signature vocal style. Between Vile’s scattered thoughts and lyrics lies a nearly 10-minute-long jam that has all the fixings of a quality summer song.
A cut from Vile’s upcoming record, “b’lieve i’m going down…” “Pretty Pimpin” shows the songwriter combining a thumping country melody with honest, introspective lyrics. Vile seems to lose himself reflecting in his own songs, but he never manages to lose the attention of the audience. These songs are precisely orchestrated but with a loose, “put-together” feel of classic country artists.
Both Vile and Real Estate successfully emulate facets of modern country’s sound, but with an approach far-removed from the pool of homogeneous country musicians. Let these amazing artists provide the soundtrack to your relaxed summer afternoons as they gradually dwindle into autumn’s frost.