Grammy-winning Sturgill Simpson returns with the appropriately-named ‘Sound & Fury’, an adventurous, genre-smashing album. It’s an exhilarating ride from start to finish, reinforcing Simpson’s reputation as one of the most exciting musicians around. He is as unpredictable as he is talented, each album veering in a different direction. ‘Sound & Fury’, with it’s synths and disco-beats, swampy riffs and glam guitar, is consistently intense and is a huge leap away from the traditional country of Simpson’s debut.
Alongside the record, Simpson has released a dramatic Netflix anime movie with a samurai-style hero in a post-apocalyptic world. Fans can get a glimpse of the film’s style through the video for the single, ‘Sing Along’, which is a breath-taking combination of fuzzy guitar and a disco beat. There’s an aggressive edge, summed up when Simpson sings: “Compromise is made out of peace // But history’s made out of violence // After the war of the worlds has ceased // All that’s left is the deafening silence.” This dark, theatrical tone permeates the entire album. Essentially, the album is the soundtrack to the film, which is certainly worth viewing, but it works perfectly well on its own terms.
The album opens with wailing electric guitar over a strong beat on the powerful instrumental ‘Ronin’, which merges seamlessly into ‘Remember to Breathe’. Simpson’s echoing vocal refers to the darkness in his mind, over a driving, rhythmic groove and searing guitar. ‘A Good Look’ is thumping and pacey with atmospheric synths. As always, the lyrics are fabulously evocative: “I write my poems in the dirt with an oily rag.” Later on the record, Simpson lets loose with the grungy blues of ‘Best Clockmaker on Mars’ and the distorted, modern rockabilly of ‘Last Man Standing’.
There are calmer, more reflective moments. ‘All Said and Done’ is an aching ballad with a beautiful melody although the guitar solo still rips through towards the end. ‘Make Art not Friends’ is slower than many of the tracks but no less atmospheric. As the song builds from an electronic beginning, the soaring synths, glam guitar and Simpson’s weary vocal turn the song into an epic.
‘Mercury in Retrograde’ is a beautifully constructed, poppy ear-worm that chugs along while Simpson rails against the music industry and the false people it’s brought into his life: “Living the dream makes a man want to scream // Light a match and burn it all down.” Tasteful synth sounds and the foot-tapping rhythm make this one of the album’s highlights.
The record screeches to a close with ‘Fastest Horse in Town’. Most of the songs are relatively short but this is a seven-minute epic. There are crashing layers of sound, full and intense, scorching guitar and Simpson’s effects-laden vocal. He sings: “Everyone’s trying to be the next someone // But look at me, I’m trying to be the first something.” It’s hard to argue with that. Simpson is a genuinely original voice in a crowded market-place.
Sturgill Simpson has produced an album of such character; it’s tenacious, relentless and remarkably consistent, each song working together to create a coherent whole. There’s an experimental feel and the ambitious blend of styles may not be for everyone. However, the songs are delivered with such swagger that it’s hard not to be carried along. This is a record to listen to and absorb in its entirety. To quote Simpson: “Just lay back and let it happen // And remember to breathe.”
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