Sound & Fury

Sturgill Simpson

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Sound & Fury Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Sturgill Simpson handled the Grammy-winning success of 2016's A Sailor's Guide to Earth the same way he handled everything else in his career: with an ornery turn to the left. He holed up with his touring band in Waterford, Michigan and recorded a gnarled, angry collection of space age Southern rockers, then commissioned a fleet of Japanese animators to create an accompanying anime film, naming the whole shebang after a line from Macbeth. Every element of Sound & Fury telegraphs that Simpson will not be contained by the conventional definitions of country, whether it's mainstream, Americana, or old-fashioned outlaw. Make no mistake, Simpson still trades upon stylish vintage vibes, dressing large portions of Sound & Fury in wheezing analog synths, saturated fuzz guitars, and robotic boogie, but unlike either Metamodern Sounds in Country Music or A Sailor's Guide to Earth, there is no sense that he's attempting to tap into a pure past. Contamination is the guiding principle throughout Sound & Fury. Genres and aesthetics clash with abandon, with the keyboards sounding as nasty as the grinding guitars or even Simpson's heavily processed vocals. This onslaught of futuristic noise is intended to be confrontational, but there's a creeping suspicion that the audacity is also meant to be admired, as if pushing himself outside of his wheelhouse is enough risk for a good record. Certainly, the cacophonic rush can often be intoxicating, but the record gets better when the sci-fi murk lifts and a song comes into focus, which happens more often on the second half, when Simpson relaxes enough to offer up a bit of good ZZ Top funk ("Best Clockmaker on Mars") and a blues shuffle ("Mercury in Retrograde"). But songs aren't the point of Sound & Fury. As the title makes plain, it's all about the sound and fury, noise that grabs hard and eventually softens its grip.

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