Album Review: Sturgill Simpson — Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Karlie Justus Marlowe | May 13th, 2014

sturgillsimpsonmetamodernPsychedelia and theoretical philosophy and metaphysics, oh my.

Early buzz around Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music threw up a red flag or two for many fans of the Kentucky singer-songwriter. His June 2013 debut disc High Top Mountain was a modern traditionalist’s dream, spinning together enough pedal steel, coal mine memories and mainstream country cynicism to fill in a small piece of the hole left by George Jones’ passing just days before. In its working man anthems and lamentations on love, a common theme emerged from Simpson’s collection: we’re all in this together, and “this” sure sounds good.

So do the lofty themes, head-scratching lyrics and eccentric cover songs of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music kill that momentum? Quite the contrary – in fact, it’s sure to be one of the best (decidedly country) releases of the year.

With help from one of Nashville outsider-insiders’ favorite producers, Dave Cobb, Simpson contrasts traditional country themes and vocals with an incredibly wide variety of musical influences – and, just like the album’s spoken-twang “medder-modern” introduction by the artist’s grandfather, “Dood” Fraley, the result is endearingly exciting. “The boys and me still working on the sound” isn’t just a winking lyric on honky-tonker “Life of Sin,” it’s a promise for the wide range of experimentation to come.

Perhaps the most surprising, fascinating diversity on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music isn’t the subject matter, but the incredible elasticity of Simpson’s voice. He sneers a couple of syllables out of the word “line” on Charlie Moore and Bill Napier’s loping “Long White Line,” and builds to a damn-near explosion on his improbably successful cover of When In Rome’s “The Promise.” He hosts a gospel call and response on the jubilant “A Little Light,” before his hellish, possessed howls make “It Ain’t All Flowers” lyrics “When you play with the devil / You know you’re gonna get the horns” that much more creepy.

The album-closing track is an epic indulgence that clocks in at more than six and a half minutes, complete with a psychedelic breakdown and deranged staccato sound wall. It’s the one place on the album where the experimentation veers too far — worth the initial listen, but lacking the rest of the record’s checks and balances to warrant a full-song repeat.

All analysis, description and drug-induced science book binges aside, the grit and heft of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music doesn’t quite make sense until it’s played several times over, all the way through. The genre-busting content matter is sure to provide ample material for annoying new genre names – Trippy-Tonk! DMTraditional! Pillbilly! – but make no mistake, it’s an incredible, important addition to country music.

5 Stars

Preview or purchase Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

  1. Barry Mazor
    May 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

    If only they’d had it as a “trippy tonk” soundtrack for “True Detective”!

    Excellent review, Karlie..

  2. TX Music Jim
    May 13, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    listening to the record as I am typing. wow this is the best thing I’ve heard so far this year ! Long white line is my favrite tune so far on this album.

  3. Scooter
    May 13, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    Far out man! Just gave it a first listen and I’m lovin it. It’s going to be so interesting to see how much and what kind of recognition this guy gets

  4. Ken Morton, Jr.
    May 15, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Karlie, great job reviewing a truly great album.

  5. Jeff Holt
    June 1, 2014 at 7:07 am

    ” – but make no mistake, it’s an incredible, important addition to country music.”

    Indeed, it is!

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