By Ian Bremner
Since Sturgill Simpson’s climb up the critical ranks, he’s been highly skeptical of press and journalists speaking on his behalf. Already a man of few words, anyone trying to get an idea of what he is up to hits a hard wall pretty quickly. It’s been three years since his last record, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, and though the seemingly endless touring cycles have wound down, he has popped up now and again to make appearances at festivals and one-off shows with his down and dirty new fuzz rock band.
It is clear he is in a new, louder and scuzzier phase, but folks have been standing by idly waiting for clues on what his next project would sound like. The only real glimpses of Sturgill over the last couple of years have come in the form of TV and movie acting cameos. His last song released was a slow country tune, The Dead Don’t Die, which doubled as the theme song to Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie movie, in which Simpson stars in as a zombie.
If you’ve followed Simpson’s career at all, you are abundantly aware that Sturgill himself follows no linear path, nor any rules other than the ones he himself sets. It’s a given that whatever expectations fans had, Sturgill Simpson was going to shove them aside like a shitty hand at hold ‘em. The only real question folks had was just HOW left field was this new project going to be.
With the release of his 4th record, Sound & Fury, questions certainly remain, but a few things are far more clear. The “outlaw” country tag has to be removed. He may still be an outlaw by industry standards, but he has left country music in a far off stratosphere deep in the void. Having long been compared to Merle Haggard, Sound & Fury has Sturgill more in the league of ZZ Top and Queens of the Stone Age. The new songs are glitchy, electronic, spastic and totally explosive. In a recent interview, Simpson admits to listening to a lot of Eminem and Wu Tang Clan during the recording of the album and wanted it to have that “punch” much like good hip hop records do. Punch, it does.
Just to make it extra “Sturgill Simpson-y,” he also released an accompanying anime film on Netflix of the same name. The 41-minute film plays in conjunction of the album and features a mysterious driver cruising head first into a dystopian nightmare land. The album cover does not directly connect with visuals from the film, but it does represent the album’s energy.
Frustrating at times is the amount of layered vocals distorted beyond recognition. With a voice like Simpson, you’d hope that that richness would be at the forefront of each song, but making heartwarming country songs was blatantly not the point this go around. Also, for the writer who has penned tunes like Turtles All The Way Down and Time After All, there are some eyebrow raising lyrical moments on Sound and Fury, but again, the message Simpson is pushing is heard loud and clear; Come along or get lost.
With every album to this point in the Simpson catalog being so wildly different, perhaps he’d say he’s already been there and done that when it comes to country music. In which case, he is correct. After the classic bluegrass of High Top Mountain and the psychedelic country of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Simpson has earned the right as an artist to do whatever the hell he wants, and if history is any measure, he plans to do exactly that.
Listen to Sound And Fury via spotify