Despite having placed “Living The Dream” on my top 10 Americana songs of the last decade list, I wouldn’t call myself a huge Sturgill Simpson fan. There’s just three or four songs of his that really hit it for me, with “Call to Arms” from A Sailor’s Guide To Earth being my favorite because it is so unlike him. But then if that was unlike him, SOUND & FURY is completely unrecognizable from him.
Sturgill has never been known to do what the market wants. His breakout hit Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014) was not what was popular, it was a callback to the outlaw country he loved. However, it became an unlikely hit and went on to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Album. It’s follow up, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (2016) was a slight departure from it, but the slide on his cover of “In Bloom” by Nirvana demonstrated that he was still a country artist. On SOUND & FURY he leaves that label to embrace full on rock and roll.
There is an accompanying anime with this album, but I am not a film critic, so this is a review of the album, not the film.
SOUND & FURY is a fantastic homage to ZZ Top and the other synth-rock acts of the 1980s. The blues licks and distortion on “Remember to Breathe” make that immediately clear. The instrumental introduction, “Ronin,” is a stellar mood piece that sets the tone for the album as a thorough throwback to 80s rock, solidified on “Best Clockmaker On Mars.” The organ on “A Good Look” combined with the synthesizer and the funky guitar straight out of “E Street Shuffle” makes for a good old party friendly jam.
There’s more than a little retrowave, too. The chill environment produced on tracks like “Make Art Not Friends” and “Mercury In Retrograde” with synth heavy production is highly reminiscent of retrowave acts like Timecop 1983 and Gunship. I’m not sure whether the drums are a machine or just electronic, but they’re some form of synthesized in a way that really works with the rest of the album.
The drums on this album are exceptional as well. The syncopation on “Sing Along” and “Make Art Not Friends” make it both danceable and more than a little chilling. It underscores the lyrics in those songs like “I can’t go on/living alone/now that you’re gone” and “Face in the mirror’s all skin and bones/Bloodshot eyes and a heart of stone.” The tonal variety on this album is stellar and the way Simpson can balance songs like those with heavy rockers is phenomenal.
SOUND & FURY is available now wherever you get your music.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.