Sturgill Simpson’s fourth full-length album isn’t quite at the genre iconoclast level of an “Old Town Road,” but it certainly makes for a bizarre hodgepodge. Beyond a vaguely southern overcast, his established country sound is nowhere to be found. In its place is what feels like a 21st-century answer to ZZ Top’s Eliminator as a mix of electronic and psychedelic rock influences clash over danceable blues rhythms. It’s certainly a musical curveball, but one that makes sense when you consider how quickly he had asserted his love for overarching concepts.
With all these influences in mind, the layout on Sound & Fury is surprisingly cohesive. Much of that could be attributed to an incredibly chill vibe that permeates throughout; whether the songs are going for in your face hard rock or more restrained pacing, they’re delivered in an easygoing, laid back fashion. The instruments may all be tight and well-performed, but that confidence is what really keeps it all from getting too jarring.
The production does a good job of balancing the album’s grit and polish, but the heavy reverb makes the mix come off as sounding rather distant. It helps establish the mood, but the instrument layers can get rather cluttered at times. On top of that, the vocals are heavily filtered, which makes the lyrics less intelligible than usual. It technically suits the album’s vibe, and Simpson’s voice is still pleasant enough, but it makes the themes feel less poignant.
Fortunately, the songwriting makes the most of the variety, and the individual tracks flow into one another quite smoothly. Opening with “Ronin” and “Remember to Breathe” was a smart move, as their atmospheric buildups make the more danceable “Sing Along” and “A Good Look” easier to swallow. From there, “Make Art Not Friends” is a stadium-worthy mid-tempo stomp, “All Said and Done” puts in some spacy introspection, “Mercury in Retrograde” is the most pointed anthem, and “Fastest Horse in Town” betrays its title by closing things out with a slow, heavy blues jam.
Sound & Fury likely won’t be seen as Sturgill Simpson’s magnum opus, but it’s great to see the experiments work as well as they do. While the theming can seem detached compared to his past efforts, the music’s eclectic nature makes up for it. It’s an album that may take some extra listens to feel out, but its breezy pacing gives it plenty of replay value. The sheer cool it exudes makes for a fun anime soundtrack as well as some excellent driving music. Whether he returns to his more traditional country style or develops this sound further, the future is sure to stay interesting.
“Make Art Not Friends”
“All Said and Done”
“Mercury in Retrograde”
“Fastest Horse in Town”