For his fourth studio album, Sturgill Simpson has put together a recipe:
1. Mix together glam and psychedelic rock
2. Add a dash of country
3. Mix until well combined
4. Top it off with a sprinkle of synth-pop
The final result: a rich and complex collection of 10 tracks, which became Sound and Fury
The Kentucky native decided not to ride the Grammy-winning wave that came with his last album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth once again breaking the boundaries of genre. The perpetually evolving sound makes it almost impossible to put any two of his albums next to each other. With ‘Sound & Fury’, the listener joins the artist on a car ride through a dystopian desert accompanied by a constantly changing radio. Never being shy of bringing in personal and emotional experience, the new release is drenched in anger, fear, protest, and even a degree of acceptance, all of which is cleverly camouflaged with the sound of an electric guitar and the heavy drum.
The journey starts with an instrumental composition “Ronin” – the drifting samurai, an elegantly paid homage to Simpson’s Navy days in Japan. The track is quite simply badass, and no words are needed to explain this. The outlaw musician doesn’t let this attitude busk in the air for long, as from here on out each song is on a whole new frequency. Ronin takes center stage throughout the whole album, which becomes especially evident with the 40-minute Netflix special. Perhaps Simpson is using this as a metaphor for his journey through the music industry and the fight he is ready to put up?
The musician takes an unexpected 180-degree turn with “Sing Along”. What sounds like a funky dance track and feels as if Beck met The Black Keys, is actually filled with doubt and uncertainty. Lyrically it changes from one’s fear of loneliness to the angry “you done me wrong, so here’s your song, now sing along”. The words roll of his tongue, making it quite evident that the musician has outdone himself with the delicately constructed lyrics.
The true beauty of the album seeps through the personal touch found in every song. “A Good Luck”, written with John Prine, finds Simpson rebelling against the musical norms as if saying ‘I’m doing this for myself and no one else’. Starting to spot a pattern here? We also have “The Last Man Standing”, yet another track screaming for power and independence. With a feel of the 60’s boogie-woogie, the sound is covered in thick black eyeliner and a ripped t-shirt. Simpson elevates his strength. “I never learned how to play, so I broke the game” is once again him, a solo man, going against the current and being his true self, a message which he doesn’t quite carry through the whole album.
There are a few odd ones in the bunch, like “Make Art Not Friends”. Starting with two minutes to lift- off, the arrangement doesn’t deliver a punch of expected strength. Instead of dropping, the beat rolled off the table. Maybe that was the intention, as the song carries a feeling of acceptance and unsatisfied content. Deviating from the rest of the album, it is perhaps the most personal song on there, with the musicians radiating the hardship and isolation that came with the success. With this track, Simpson expands the portfolio of emotions within the album to now include a sense of exhaustion.
Give credit where credit is due, it is not often that an album comes along so rich in texture, but when it does, the energy it radiates is explosive. The after-effect of the boom hides the beautiful lyrics under a thick layer of smoke that the listener has to search through. To an unaware ear, this album can be the perfect addition to their collection of favorites. After all, music is there to be heard and this release has the volume cranked to the max, with the deep, raspy and somewhat soothing voice acting as an amplifier.
As the journey draws to an end Simpson starts the exit with “Fastest Horse in Town” once again explaining that this album is by Simpson and for Simpson. Instruments start to merge together for one hell of distortion, which, while sounding anything by harmonizing, cancels out all of the outside notice and the listener gets lost in the complex arrangement. With one-minute left till the end, the beat starts to pick up. All of a sudden, the lights go out and the curtain draws to a close. One thing is for sure Sturgill Simpson is not searching for his place, he is his own architect and he made it pretty damn clear with Sound & Fury. As for Ronin, he wanders on… for now.