Vinyl VVednesday: Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury
This is a sort of country music-related post. That’s your warning, but I definitely don’t want it to scare you away. There’s a new(ish) country artist named Sturgill Simpson who has successfully turned me onto the genre. The record I’m reviewing today is not a country record though, it’s a huge creative experiment that should appeal to fans of good rock and roll (which means it might gain the attention of a few metalheads in the process). Sturgill’s fourth record, Sound & Fury, sounds nothing like his previous three, very country albums, but it still contains whatever magic ingredients he and his band possess that makes them so great.
Who is Sturgill Simpson and why is country music being discussed on the Toilet ov Hell? you might be asking your computer screen right now. I get it. I was once like you. But then I saw him live and it all made sense, when last year some friends of mine dragged me to a “Roots ‘n Blues Festival” to see some of their favorite modern country acts. For years they had been raving about this Sturgill Simpson character; in fact, they had had been playing tracks for me for years, notably one which contains themes that I quite appreciate in hopes that I would gain some sort of interest.
I was blown away by this man (and his band). This a country artist who basically sounds like the O.G.’s of the genre, and feels just as authentic. And then he surprised everybody with some extended jam sessions during his regular songs, some very heavy metal jam sessions. This dude has to have some appreciation for the genre. The psychedelic and stoner-rock passages sounded like something that any given metal band might be playing as their primary gig. It was around a 90-minute set, and I was transfixed. Classic country is good country, I say, and he pulls it off flawlessly.
All right, so kicking the record off we are treated with a five-ish minute guitar solo that sounds like Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine. That’s our first indication that this isn’t the same country album as High Top Mountain. The second song “Remember to Breathe” starts with some Japanese-influenced notes—which goes along with the visual portion of the album. [Note: Sturgill and his band decided to hire some prominent anime writers and make a short film on Netflix, a visual accompaniment to the audio.] Next is “Sing Along,” a boot-shaker that reminds a lot of people of Z.Z. Top. Its accompanying music video is essentially chapter 3 from the aforementioned film.
“A Good Look” is a disco-fueled rocker with funky guitar licks and synths. Upbeat songs like this one are pretty much scattered throughout the album, making for a very surprising first listen. Track five, “Make Art Not Friends” is the MVP of Sound & Fury, a synth heavy “ballad” in the sense that “Drive” by The Cars was a “ballad.” This is the last song I’m going to make you listen to, because it’s rill gud:
So that’s the first half of the record. Track six, “Best Clockmaker on Mars” is a dirty, 70’s style hard rock trip that includes —along with a super catchy hook—some retro synth work for the bridges, something that might fit in with the soundtrack to an action movie from that time. Finally coming in at song number seven, we have something that slightly resembles country: “All Said and Done.” Now this isn’t as country as his earlier work, but it’s his new version of country filtered through the new rock band aesthetic. “Last Man Standing” is a short and fast little ditty with old-school flavor to it that’s maybe comparable to one of the more upbeat Johnny Cash songs? Next up is another one of my favorites, the somewhat bitter (lyrically) and slower-paced “Mercury In Retrograde.” The last song is a fuzz-filled seven-minute dose of pure prog rock, including the obligatory guitar and keyboard solos.
So here I am reviewing a country(/not country) album on a heavy metal blog. If you’ve never dipped your toes into country music, this could be an entry point (as it was for me). I’ve always enjoyed bluegrass and most of the early pioneers of the genre, but just never could get into the new stuff— it’s too poppy. But too poppy this is not. Sturgill Simpson is an asset to the world of country music, and with this here fourth full-length, I think he broke a barrier and became an asset to the world of music in general. And he’s just a cool guy during interviews as well, not to mention a man with convictions.
Anyways, Sound & Fury is highly recommended. It’s a great sounding record with great packaging, and not too high a price. If you like those embedded songs, you’ll enjoy the whole thing. And it might coax you into going further down the country music rabbit hole, but at the least it’ll be an enjoyable one-off that tickles your fancy. There’s also the option that you’ll hate it, which is sure to be the case with some folks. Feel free to discuss below!
* Awards don’t really mean anything to me. But I guess if an album is good enough to gain recognition by some sort of voting body, as the Best of the year, that says something.