Though the bulk of Eddie Vedder’s music contributions to date tend more towards the realm of grunge/alternative rock as the frontman of Pearl Jam, his solo career and live performances strongly indicate that he is not one to shy away from acoustic instrumentation or stripped down recording methods, nor is he a stranger to topics that are quintessentially ‘folk’ in nature. In a review of Vedder’s complete soundtrack, likewise entitled Into the Wild, AllMusic’s Thom Jurek described the album as a “collection of folksy, rootsy tunes where rock & roll makes fleeting appearances.” With some exception, stylistically, Into the Wild is largely congruent with the folk genre, often featuring minimal and predominantly acoustic instrumentation, barebones, single take production, and earnest, emotional vocal delivery.

Folk music, being such a broad umbrella of a genre, has a number of relevant qualifiers and considerations to discuss, especially given that Society is in fact a relatively contemporary work. American folk music is a longstanding, largely orally perpetuated, and historically rurally centered genre. That being said, significant adaptations to its stylization and form took place throughout the 20th century, as a result of the ‘folk revivals’ that occurred. Namely, these shifts happened in the following ways: folk’s purpose became less rural life/community-centric and more politically motivated (e.g Guthrie & Seeger), and artists/stylists came more into focus on the basis of their authenticity, de-emphasizing the participatory and open source qualities of traditional folk (e.g Dylan), which subsequently brought the genre more into the mainstream, reducing the gap between itself and popular music.

Folk being brought into the pop culture fold enabled the formation of a great many crossover genres, which are necessary to understanding Into the Wild and Society. While Into the Wild on the whole is predominantly folk rock/alternative due to its sometimes more complex instrumentation and production, Society is a wonderful exemplar of contemporary, neo-traditional folk, and this is the case for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being its composition. Society features a very standard four-chord progression in the key of C (about as traditional American folk as you can get), with a simple and highly consonant melody line. Tight vocal harmonies are employed, briefly and for emphasis in the latter choruses, and the guitar leads are closely replicated as opposed to improvised across most recordings. It was recorded as one full take, has no track layering or overdubbing, and received virtually no embellishment through production. Despite being contemporary, recorded and released in 2007, Society stylistically embodies roots folk to the utmost extent.

In addition to its sound, Society is further cemented as a folk tune on account of its authorship and collaboration. Jerry Hannan, the original songwriter, is a bay-area folk singer-songwriter whose music is described on his artist site as, “shades of Dylan and John Prine …very Americana with a faint Irish lilt,” and additionally that, “he’s a storyteller, known for his thought provoking lyrics and exuberant performances.” He and Vedder both fall fairly well outside the sphere of popular culture and music, and thus are prime candidates of what Owen Cantrell refers to as the ‘cult of authenticity’ in folk music. Both artists are relatively marginal (Vedder less so, however his solo career is), outspokenly politically left, and clear proponents of the contemporary folk genre.

Further, the lyrics’ message overall is quite congruent thematically with American folk, particularly post-revival. The transcendentalist values of individualism, self-reliance, and beauty in nature, widely a topic of interest throughout the history of the genre are clearly emphasized in the track. Also of importance is the renunciation and condemnation of institution and consumerism in mainstream culture, which a great many folk artists and stylists have purveyed in their work. Society avoids inflammatory or accusative language, and instead makes its critique in a cleverly vague fashion, through the use of irony and literary device, a method not unbeknownst to the likes of Seeger and Dylan.