New Music: Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
by Jon W. Cole, is a contributing writer living in Athens, GA. He podcasts at the68comebackspecial.com. Don't forget to check out his Best of 2013 mixes. He tweets, too: @joncole.
Back in January I wrote about one of my very favorite records of last year, Kentucky-born Sturgill Simpson’s High Top Mountain. Well, ol’ Sturgill is back again with Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, & this time the junket is in full effect.
Mainstream country music is so bad right now that a traditional sounding country music finally has a chance to cut through, & a psychedelic country record about DMT & reptile aliens is strangely easy for people to wrap their head around. But I think that boiling it down to a space-aged concept album sells the record short… even without the psychedelic differentiators, this is one of the best country records that has come out in years. It’s a record about searching for comfort & assurance. It’s about traveling & it’s about love & loss, having & not having. It’s a country record, through & through. One couldn’t say it much better than Sturgill, himself… “Myriad worldly offerings – religion, drugs, and more — all claim to be the omnipotent universal truth, but in my experience, love is the only certainty. That’s what this record is about.”
A lot has been written about this record in the last week, & I haven’t given it enough of a listen to really add anything substantial. But I will say that, of all the curiosities found on the record, the most surprising is a cover of When In Rome’s 1988 hit the Promise (which you might recognize from the tetherball scene/end credits from the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite). Sturgill has a way of stitching together time periods in really bizarre ways that somehow seem, not just relevant, but strangely urgent. Part of that is the recording… the whole record was cut live in 4 days with the illustrious Dave Cobb at the helm, on a budget of just $4,000. The other part is his patchwork of influences, both timeless and contemporary, ranging from Jesus to Carl Sagan to quantum mechanics & string theory. I’m not sure anyone else could sing an ’80s pop song in a style that recalls outlaw country legends like Waylon Jennings without it sounding forced or flat, but Sturgill pulls it off.
In the end, this is a record that needs to be heard to be understood. It’s a record of truths, both person & universal, both surprising & well-worn, & it will speak to your heart. If you don’t listen to it now, you’ll end up hearing it sooner or later… if by some tragedy Sturgill doesn’t win Emerging Act of the Year at the AMAs, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll find this record on the top of many a list come year end. So go ahead & grab it at sturgillsimpson.bandcamp.com.