If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that “Americana” music is constantly evolving, and who better to school us than Kurt Vile? The Philadelphia native took his place in the canon with 2009’s Childish Prodigy , a yawning, steely set of ballads and ambient buzz, tinged with shimmering, shameless exercises in guitar acrobatics. Today, Smoke Ring for My Halo drops on Matador, delving even deeper into contemporary, urban folktales. There’s even a harp! If you’re in New York, you can catch Kurt Vile at one of no fewer than three in-store performances: Academy Records in Brooklyn (5pm, with Bill Nace and Thurston Moore), and in Manhattan at Generation Records (7pm) or Other Music (9pm).
Without further ado, we give you Kurt Vile’s Americana video playlist, accompanied by his take on each of the songs he selected. True story: after whipping up this mix for us, he confessed he’ll be making a tape of it for the road. We just might do the same.
Suicide – “Las Vegas Man”
“This song sounds like an abusive, demented trip through middle America, like a messed-up Elvis… it’s so ambient, demented and yet beautiful. They really aren’t faking it. [Suicide] become their songs when they perform them.”
Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris – “In My Hour of Darkness”
“The piano is just perfect. The harmonies are out of this world, and the whole song chimes; every part of it. The story is about a country singer mentor who dies by the end, and it tugs on my heartstrings for sure.”
Panda Bear – “Alsatian Darn”
“I love Panda Bear. I have all three of those new 7″s and I got to tour with him in Europe for three shows about a year ago, and he was performing all of those songs… I’m a huge fan so it was a total honor. In [“Alsatian Darn”], towards the end, it just repeats these three notes from a sampled piano, going to what seems like a bridge, but it’s an outro… this song just rules.”
Bruce Springsteen – “Janey Don’t You Lose Heart”
Click here to listen (heads up: it’s an autoplay).
“Bruce is the boss, because this song is a solid hit and it’s still a B-side. Everything from the cheesy keyboard that’s not cheesy at all to the heart-wrenching story of some girlfriend he had who he left… perfect song, and I love how he’s like ‘aw naw naw naw!'”
Bob Dylan – “Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”
Click here to listen (again, this one autoplays).
“I got Bob Dylan’s Biograph, the six-record set… it has tracks from The Basement Tapes, when he had this whole Dada-esque writing style, and he was so happy to not be on the road. He pretended he broke his neck and got out of a giant tour that he thought would kill him, so he stayed in the country and read lots of books. I love the way he sings, and I love the semi-lo-fi, full band feeling of these songs, like a music party going on… and the words are just hilarious. When I got Biograph, I was so happy this song was on there because all of the Basement Tapes songs trip me out but they make me laugh at the same time. I remember coming home from work and not being able to wait to play this song, and I got excited and scratched the whole record… so I bought another one. I traded in some of my records for it and I was like ‘oh, thank god.'”
Neil Young – “On the Beach”
“‘On the Beach’ is really slow and distraught, like a loner song… and then in the guitar solo towards the end, he bends the high note so he’s playing two of the same note… that note changed my life.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Sailor’s Lament”
“This song starts out simply; with bass, very dark-sounding with simple keyboard, then the gospel call-and-response starts in, and it’s just a total heartland feeling.”
Joni Mitchell – “Morning Morgantown”
“Her delivery just kills you. It’s just perfect. She’s a fallen-angel kinda chick. Everybody talks about Blue, but Ladies of the Canyon has some serious jams on it. This in particular might be my favorite Joni song.”
Pink Reason – “Up the Sleeve”
“ Cleaning the Mirror really inspired me when I was getting back into buying up records. It’s really serious, and it means it. It’s got its lo-fi leanings, but that song in particular is kind of dark, but the band is so slow, so pretty, so raw… they’ve got that distraught whining thing going on. At the very end those saxophone just kinda squawk out of nowhere! It’s pretty genius. It really does remind me of today’s version of Americana… I know they recorded when they were over in Wisconsin, and it just feels like Middle America. I could imagine driving to this song.”
The Ramones – “I Remember You”
“For this last one, I picked the Ramones, because you can’t get much more American than the Ramones. Even the old phrase, ‘I remember you,’ from Joey Ramone, who always sounds like he’s about to cry or laugh, sounds sad and joyous at the same time. That’s my Americana.”