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Sturgill Simpson - Sound & Fury (Album Review)

Thursday, 17 October 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Semi Song

Sturgill Simpson is a country music outlier. His first three albums were rich, detailed journeys through left-field Americana that drew favourable comparisons to Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. His fourth, ‘Sound & Fury’, which is also a Netflix special, diverges from edgy but ultimately traditional-sounding songs in favour of scuzzy rock and guitar argy bargy. The results are mixed.

First and foremost this is a concept album, with the sound of a radio being tuned incorporated to usher in opener Ronin—a space rock dirge that feels about 4/5ths Dave Gilmour. The track demonstrates a degree of fretboard mastery previously hidden and, perhaps more importantly for the concept, establishes that this is going to be an LP of quickly changing musical textures, reveling in messiness and occasionally undercooked songwriting.

On ‘Sound & Fury’ the listener is relentlessly parachuted into raucous road songs (Sing Along), doomy blues (Best Clockmaker on Mars) and heavy country (Mercury in Retrograde).

It’s exciting stuff and even though it reins in the diversity of songwriting shown on 2016's ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’, it reveals an artist who is pleasingly unwilling to relentlessly bend the knee to money men—unusual in Nashville.

Actually, this style of album composition borrows as much from Kendrick Lamar as from Pink Floyd. Running tracks directly into each other via ditties and skits is a motif regularly deployed in hip hop, which makes the resulting music feel less tidy and more spontaneous. In this regard, ‘Sound & Fury’ works remarkably well and is a very pleasing addition to Simpson’s growing catalogue.

But in other ways, the record lacks craft. Tracks such as Fastest Horse in Town, Make Art Not Friends and Remember to Breathe are interesting within the tightly constructed confines of country music, but actually sound rather passé when looking at what is going on in contemporary rock music in a similar intellectual space—think Arctic Monkeys, Thee Oh Sees or even Thom Yorke (whose recent album was also the subject of a Netflix special). 

Ultimately, Simpson is one of the most interesting musicians around, but there is a slight over-reach on ‘Sound & Fury’. If your music is going to run the risk of sounding derivative, you’d better cover your tracks well enough that it doesn’t sound like a pale imitation. While the album too often falls foul of this rule, he remains a brilliant and complex artist.

Sturgill Simpson Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue January 28 2020 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town
Wed January 29 2020 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Fri January 31 2020 - GLASGOW Old Fruitmarket
Sat February 01 2020 - DUBLIN Vicar Street

Click here to compare & buy Sturgill Simpson Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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