Sturgill Simspon (photo by Semi Song, PR)
Sound & Fury
Sturgill Simpson has it all in his back pocket. He’s a brilliant songwriter, an exceptional musician, an intelligent thinker, a devoted family man, and a voice for the everyday working person. He’s an artist who has always followed the beat of his own drum.
Nothing is going to change that fact, and now Simpson has released a new album that's a real knockout. Sound & Fury, his fourth album, unlike anything done in the past — and perhaps unlike anything he'll record again.
Sound & Fury is not only an album, but it is also a dystopian anime film available now on Netflix, written and produced by Simpson, with major contributions from many of the leading names in Japanese animation. The intersection of country music and Japanese anime is completely unexpected — which is what Simpson might have been thinking when mapping out this impressive project. He's described this new collection of songs in a label press release as “a really sleazy, steamy rock and roll record." Says Simpson: "It’s definitely my most psychedelic. And also my heaviest.”
One thing is for certain – Sound & Fury is not a country album. It’s what might happen if you took the greasy Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd, tossed in healthy chunks of Queens of the Stone Age, added copious amounts of Eighties-era ZZ Top, and stirred in the attitude of Eminem. Everything then gets cranked to "11" on the volume dial.
A concept with a mission, Sound & Fury opens with the scene-setting instrumental called “Ronin.” The protagonist of this opener walks to his car, starts it up, searches his radio, revs the engine, and roars out to the highway. As the driver aims to break the sound barrier, Simpson lets rip with a furious guitar solo, signaling seat belts need to be securely fastened for this wild ride. What follows is a driving song cycle pointed towards impending doom. Buzzing synths butt up against ripping guitars, sending sparks and shrapnel everywhere.
The album’s rhythms gallop relentlessly, reaching a frenetic velocity on the single “Sing Along” which delivers barbed lines like, “Compromise is made out of peace/But history is made out of violence.”
A funky bassline powers the distorted disco beat of “A Good Look,” co-written by Simpson and John Prine. In this song, Simpson rails against both the country music establishment and the music industry as a whole. In “Make Art Not Friends,” a song that slows the pace a bit, Simpson snarls, “I love saying no to all the yes-men/Just to see the look on their face/Love how everybody knows what’s best/But nobody knows their place.”
Sound & Fury is perfectly titled. It is a deliberately over-saturated work that angrily chugs along at breakneck speed. Every groove of the record is packed beyond capacity with sound. Matching the adrenaline-fueled melodies are Simpson's furious lyrics which lash out at his critics and the music business. To further drive that message home, Sound & Fury is reinforced by the visuals seen in the anime film.
That leap to fury might not be that surprising to anyone who has followed Simpson's career. The Kentucky native, raised in Versailles near Louisville, is a Navy veteran who took a serious turn to songwriting, urged on by his wife, after dabbling in it for years. By 2012, Simpson and his family had settled in Nashville with plans for him to give it go as a solo artist. He released his first album, High Top Mountain, in 2013. The album was warmly received and put Simpson squarely on the country music radar.
A year later, Simpson's star rose with the release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, an artistic tour de force. But that album also convinced Simpson to shake the “country artist” label. He expanded his opportunities, contributing music to television, including writing and performing “Sugar Daddy,” the theme song to HBO's “Vinyl,” a series co-created by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger.
Simpson took a harder turn away from the country label, or any label for that matter, with 2016’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Now, Sound & Fury takes that transformation even further.
Simpson has a lot to say on Sound & Fury and he is not going to be denied that opportunity. He delivers his message succinctly in this rocking, pounding, raging album that shows Simpson's evolution from country star to genre-defiant renegade — and anime aficionado too.