Opinion: The Genius Defying Country Music Genres

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The theme song for Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie apocalypse movie, The dead don’t die, is a song of the same name. It’s a Sturgill Simpson single and I’m not sure if the Kentucky singer-songwriter composed it for the Jarmusch movie or if it was an independent effort from the new work of the offbeat author, but the song and a physical copy of the single’s CD return in the star-studded film whose cast includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez and Tom Waits. Simpson himself also stars in the film – he is, like Iggy Pop, a zombie named Guitar Zombie.

The film, which released this summer and is a bizarre commentary on the state of a matter-obsessed world, is classified by many critics as a horror comedy. Simpson’s lyrics in the song (Oh the dead don’t die / Neither do you or me / They’re just ghosts in a dream / Of a life we ​​don’t own / They sometimes wander around / Never paying attention / To the foolish lives we lead / Or the harvest we all sowed) tailoring his plot to a T. The lazy way to classify Simpson, 41, is to call him a country singer. But while this label may suit him – its roots have always been in country music, in the lore of the late Waylon Jennings or the successful Willie Nelson – it’s the one it gets because critics really don’t know what. think of its constant evolution. artwork.

Simpson has released four full albums – the most recent is Sound & Fury, released in late September – but each one is so different that it’s hard to put your finger on the Simpson genre. His self-funded debut album, High Top Mountain (2013), is a vintage-style country classic, evoking the heyday of the genre. A revivalist company, its traditional ballads recreate the atmosphere of an old-fashioned honky-tonk bar.

Simpson was quickly dubbed the new savior of country music, an epithet that probably didn’t suit him. Because his second album, the interesting titled Metamodern Sounds In Country Music (2014), took the country-rock classicism of his debut album and turned it upside down.

In Metamodern Sounds, Simpson eschews old-fashioned themes and writes songs that take on a new dimension. Drug-propelled psychedelia lifts its head in the album with songs such as the opening, Turtles All the Way Down, which just happens to be about God, bristling with lyrics like: Whenever I Take a Look inside that legendary old book / I am blinded and remember the pain of an old man in the sky / Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and DMT / They all changed my way of seeing / But love is the only thing that ever saved my life. Not as stereotypical (nor as superficial) as contemporary country music lyrics can often seem to be, Metamodern Sounds songs are deeply introspective, as Simpson seems to take a psychoanalyst’s look at his deepest and most intimate thoughts. . Okay, so he really is an “outlaw country musician,” people thought.

They were wrong. In 2016, Simpson released a concept album. Entitled A Sailor’s Guide To Earth and dedicated to his then two-year-old son, the album is like a series of missives from a father to his son, guides to growing up, discovering the world and surviving the pitfalls of life. It topped the country music charts in the United States and won the Grammy for Best Country Album. Still, it couldn’t be more different than what you would expect from country music. Richly orchestrated with a tapestry of strings, horns and other instruments, the songs deal with life lessons but also with politics and growing divisions in society. The soundscape is diverse: there are touches of soul and R&B, uncommon on a “country music album”, and the lyrics are written and sharp.

There is also a grain of surprise in Sailor’s Guide, Simpson’s cover of Nirvana’s song, In Bloom. But just as his fans had gotten used to his improvised “country music” themed riffs, Simpson created another surprise. His latest, Sound & Fury, is his most significant departure from the genre that critics are trying to shut him up.

It’s so different from his previous albums that it might put off even the most loyal Simpson fans. Yet it is an exquisite album. Ronin, Sound & Fury’s first song, is an instrumental track reminiscent of 1970s progressive rock. Just as you start to recover from that surprise, there is a whole host of other sound experiences: the sound of music. era of the new wave; nervous synthesizers mingling with psychedelic lead guitar riffs; funky and dancing melodies; and super smooth production. Like the Sailor’s Guide, Sound & Fury deserves to be heard in its entirety, all at once.

Alongside the album, Sturgill released an anime-style audiovisual recreation of the album on Netflix. It is a film that tries to capture the various sound experiences of Japanese-style animation. But it’s the audio album that stands out. The songs don’t have traditional endings, they clash with each other. And there is the grunge; trippy acid rock; funk; and a host of other genres when you least expect it. Sound & Fury does two things: it shatters the preconceived stereotype of attaching an artist to a genre, but more importantly, it establishes Sturgill Simpson as the vanguard of new frontiers in contemporary rock music where genres blur, mix and merge, and experiments create unforeseen events. listening experiences.

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THE SHOW LIST

Five Sturgill Simpson Songs To End Your Week

1. “Sing Along” by “Sound & Fury”

2. “Ronin” from “Sound & Fury”

3. “Turtles All The Way Down” from “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music”

4. “In Bloom” by Sturgill Simpson in “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”

5. “You can have the crown” of “High Top Mountain”

First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.

He tweets to @sanjoynarayan

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