Album Review: Sturgill Simpson – ‘SOUND & FURY’

Sturgill
Warning: Language

The short version: Sturgill Simpson delivers a pointed criticism toward the music industry, though I’d argue this album falters in its execution.

  • Favorite tracks: “Remember To Breathe,” “All Said And Done,” “Sing Along,” “Ronin,” “Fastest Horse In Town”
  • Least favorite track: “Best Clockmaker On Mars”

The long version: Even with the buzz of a new album and accompanying anime film, Sturgill Simpson feels like an afterthought these days.

And, believe it or not, that’s not a negative remark I’m making about him; it’s a commentary on his actions over, well … his entire career. For as much as attention as he still draws from fans, you can tell Simpson no longer wants that. From trying to burn every bridge with the country music community (because if he didn’t, of course country radio would play his material anyway … yeah, that’s it!) to saying in a recent interview that, had he won the Grammy award for A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, he would have handed the award to Beyoncé and walked out of the building (the best choice for those respective albums, to be honest).

Musically, though, one could even argue Simpson burned that bridge a long time ago, even though A Sailor’s Guide To Earth wasn’t nearly as huge of a departure from country music as some fans claim. I’d say to just throw out expectations for Simpson from now on, but if that’s an alarming statement for anyone in 2019, they haven’t been paying attention. And, after leaving Atlantic Records and turning his love of Japanese culture into an anime film and subsequent soundtrack in SOUND & FURY, it does make one wonder who’s left, in terms of his fandom. As already mentioned, country fans wanting another High Top Mountain left years ago, and for everyone else … well, SOUND & FURY may be a soundtrack, but it needs to stand as its own work of art without the help of the film, so how did it turn out?

Honestly, perhaps it’s just a cause of burnout from never knowing what Simpson is going to do next, but despite delivering a fairly potent adrenaline rush in SOUND & FURY, this also scans as his least interesting album to date in nearly every department. Even as someone who never bought into the Simpson fandom, yet still liked his work, SOUND & FURY is a good, genre-bending slice of synthwave and rock, but it’s the kind of project, too, where Simpson feels burned out both creatively … and literally.

There’s no easy starting discussion point with this album, but one criticism that easily carries over from past Simpson works is the vocal production. Yes, enunciation is the most cited issue for Simpson, but the larger issue comes in wondering why he’d choose to bury one of his best assets! His thick Kentucky accent may have always been hard to get used to, but his emotional range is damn near unmatched, often finding him reflective of his past through existential musings and other forms of strife. Here, that does show itself in the content (albeit in a much different way, but more on that later), but the vocal production is at its most exasperating when Simpson chooses to bury his voice between feedback and reverb. Sure, he’s fairly powerful wailing on “Best Clockmaker On Mars” and “Fastest Horse In Town,” but he can’t even cut through to deliver the hooks on those tracks.

Granted, that sense of drowning is likely intentional, given the lyrical content. Some fans have cited SOUND & FURY as Simpson’s way of shoving a giant middle finger in the face of the country music industry, and while I’d argue against that completely, even in terms of instrumentation and production, the larger point is that Simpson is giving a giant middle finger to everyone: wannabe critics like me; actual journalists; fans who want another stone-cold country record from him; fans who hold him to a God-tier status, expecting brilliance that even he’ll admit he can’t always deliver; to, last but oh so certainly not least, the music industry in general. SOUND & FURY is a soundtrack, alright – a soundtrack to one’s own demise.

Yet, when digging into the content itself, I’d even argue the lyrics have taken a slide in quality compared to past Simpson works. Part of that extends toward the content being incredibly one-dimensional and uniform (Simpson fucking hates the music industry), but also in how it’s told. Sure, there’s something sinister and appealing about the thought of the industry turning him into a literal machine on “Remember To Breathe,” or simply letting that anger fly on “Sing Along,” “Make Art, No Friends,” “Best Clockmaker On Mars,” oh, screw it, every track aside from the strong instrumental track, “Ronin,” but when Simpson leans into theatricality, metaphors and Peter and Paul comparisons to the industry on “Good Look,” it feels like we get temper-tantrums over details and actual reflections – as if even Simpson is worried about a good look over a good hook.

And trying to imagine it from Simpson’s mindset is even worse when you consider that, outside of his music, he also weaves in politics that aren’t just leftist, but outright conspiracy theory territory. That’s a general criticism, too, over a personal statement, and relates back to this album. With Simpson convinced that everyone is out to get him, like on “Mercury In Retrograde,” and that he’s a lone wolf victim of the industry, it scans more as self-aggrandizing, which, yes, is honest, but not all that appealing to listen through.

On the other hand, it also speaks to his frustrations with the crumbling world around him, enough to where it affects his art and his mindset on “All Said And Done” and “Fastest Horse In Town.” Even if he does want to “make art and not friends,” one listens through the album wondering if he still can (which does bring up that old, interesting quote about him only making five albums, with this being the fourth in that series, and, honestly, the potential beginning of the end). And the only closure provided on the final track, “Fastest Horse In Town,” is that, yes, Simpson is aware how stupid it is to throw his success away, but saying he doesn’t care is the understatement of the year.

For an album, too, where the biggest draw has been its sound, it’s arguably the least noteworthy element of this entire album. Seriously, the structures are rooted in country and southern-rock, just with a different approach in actual execution, with a heavier focus on developed, pummeling melodic grooves. Yet, along with cackling, fuzzed-out electric guitars with some nice smolder to them, the analog synths are just here to provide an uneasy, howling tension for the delivery of the content. Yet to call this simple Guitar Hero rock ‘n’ roll isn’t really fair either, as SOUND & FURY owes more to the synthwave scene, with cutting buzzy layers, reverb around the percussion pickups, and hints of Japanese chord progressions to tie it back to Simpson; even the synth tone of “Remember To Breathe” recalls a Japanese flute above all else.

Still, to give credit to Simpson, on a pure composition level, Simpson has the right ear for giving this project the feeling of impending doom (or the outright apocalypse) and a dystopian layer that still feels close-to-home for him. Even if I’m not wild about the production quality of “Fastest Horse In Town,” for example, it’s hard to deny how much of an adrenaline rush that song, or the rest of the album, can provide at points.

But most of those compliments are given toward the pure foundation of this project, because in terms of its actual execution, it’s a mixed bag. For an album focused on heavier grooves, it’s puzzling why they’re all stifled by guitars and snyths that are blended into a wall of sound, with the feedback often clipping the mix. Heck, “Best Clockmaker On Mars” operates on a recurring two-bar riff that wears out fast with no room for development or swell, which is probably my most common criticism for this album. Again, I might get a personal rush of “Fastest Horse In Town,” but even its ending solo is just the same part sped up to a faster tempo.

Again, though, that murky, monochromatic vibe works for the dystopian atmosphere of the project, but it’s a shame that Simpson’s impressive shredding has to fight against that aforementioned wall of sound. But that’s not to say there aren’t moments that don’t nail the atmosphere somewhat consistently. From the brooding, swaggering bass groove of “Remember To Breathe” to the spacey psychedelia permeating the keyboards and acoustic line on “All Said And Done” to give it more of a confessional atmosphere, while going for something melodically looser on “Mercury In Retrograde,” this album does work in places. Even if the buzzed-out tones undermine that groove of “Sing Along,” there’s even moments between that and “Mercury In Retrograde” where Simpson goes for that “dance rock” vibe he was aiming for all along.

And, of course, this is all to say that technical criticisms or even an observation of what this album means for Simpson are all pointless. Some might try and say that Simpson and the Zac Brown Band are trying their hardest to alienate fans with their respective latest albums, but the difference is that, the Zac Brown Band actually believe they’ll win over a new legion of fans while Simpson flips that band off on “A Good Look” as he passes by them in the other direction on his way down, and on his own terms. At best, SOUND & FURY is a nice adrenaline rush that still feels too overly compressed to deliver any sort of daring or abrasive rock ‘n’ roll; meanwhile, Simpson, lyrically, takes on the role of the young kid in punk rock who’s fueled by anger, yet comes across as arrogant and shallow without those deeper observations that he used to be capable of delivering, especially when he’s a grown adult and father. But without letting that shade the entire color palette of this album, SOUND & FURY is actually a decent listen, just one that wears thin quickly, and considering Simpson is looking to “brightly burst into the air,” as another artist once put it, at least he did a good job in that department.

(Light to decent 6/10)

14 thoughts

  1. Man, there’s no other way to say this other than I’m disappointed in what your reviews have become. For someone who wrote a brilliant piece on blogging last year, your reviews haven’t been practicing what you preached. I remember in particular you said reviews shouldn’t ramble and overstay their welcome and that’s exactly what they’ve become. Not to mention it was clearly impossible for you to not to put this review through your jaded tint towards Sturgill’s personality. It’s fine not to care for an artists attitude, but to spend what feels like half of the review talking about the artist instead of the music is just pointless and self-serving. You’re basically SCM at this point, who has the same issue: grinding an axe over perceived slights and personal vendettas. I know reviews are not actually objective and filled with biases and that it’s about the listeners personal experience in relation to the music. This review just feels like it wants to say fuck Sturgill and his fans because you don’t like their attitudes (which hey I understand because I’m like that with Cody Jinks fans, but at the same time I’ve realized it’s silly to get angry at others enthusiasm towards something), but you don’t have the confidence to actually say it. Then you put an exasperated and arrogant line like “Reviewing this album is pointless” at the top. Okay, so why as the reader should I care to read then? I hate Miranda Lambert, hence why I won’t be listening to nor reviewing her next album. I know my review would be pointless as someone who strongly dislikes her. Sometimes it’s best just to sit things out rather than feel obligated to commentate on everything. Sorry for the rambling comment (ironic after calling your review the same I know), but I have to speak up because I know you’re a better writer than this. And hey if you’re happy with the way you write now, keep on keeping on and just ignore my comment.

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    1. Josh, I appreciate the even-handed criticism, really, but perhaps it be better to ask for clarification rather than make wild assumptions.

      “It was clearly impossible for you not to put this review through your jaded tint toward Sturgill’s personality.”

      You’re assuming this is background information, when in reality, that’s a major point of Sound & Fury, at least to me. Do I like the presentation of the attitude on the album? No, but that’s part of why it’s called a “review” and an “opinion.” I’ve never claimed my reviews stand as anything other than my own perspective, so I’m not sure where you’re getting that I’m insinuating otherwise? If I said, “Sturgill Simpson has always been an arrogant asshole and that’s why Sound & Fury shows it further” (or something like that), I’d see your point. I will agree the background portions of my reviews can drag on – I’ve tried to get better at that and will acknowledge those faults. But my conversation surrounding Sturgill’s attitude toward things was because it makes sense on Sound & Fury, not my personal reflection on his attitude. I talk about Simpson mostly in the review because he IS the focus, but even then, I only talk about in relation to the art itself.

      That piece you referenced is one I’ve somewhat backpedaled on, mostly because I no longer think reviews can be one’s own personal reflection on how much they like or dislike something. That’s definitely a huge part of it, and at the end of the day, it’s only one’s own personal reflection, but it’s also about framing the entire picture for the artist. You may disagree, however, and that’s fine. I expect any reader of this website, though, to understand that I’m not trying to warp their mindset. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, and that’s OK. Music criticism isn’t for everyone, and while that may sound arrogant, it’s only intended as a true fact. I myself couldn’t be a movie critic, for example, since I don’t like analyzing them the same way I like to with music. Some people are like with music, and that’s OK.

      “You’re basically SCM … grinding an axe over perceived slights and personal vendettas.”

      Pot meet kettle then, as I remember that Fusion Country was quite literally about excluding traditional country (and, indirectly, its fans) from the conversation, with two pieces in particular (one, Traditional Country and Pop Country Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin, or something like that, and another about how outlaw country influenced toxic masculinity or something) outright attacking fans without any actual historical context. Even in January, I remember your review of Maren Morris’s “GIRL” attacking how the media portrayed her over the actual song.

      I get that you’re angry, but I’d be curious to know what other reviews have obviously ticked you off, because I don’t have any a vendetta toward anyone. I attacked Sturgill’s PRESENTATION of the personality on this album, not his personality itself – two important distinctions. Some may think this is righteously furious, and I see that point and welcome it. Again, I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that I try to shut out other ideas – I outline that in the “About” section of this website.

      “This review just feels like it wants to say fuck Sturgill and his fans because you don’t like their attitudes”

      I mean … you’re welcome to your opinion on that, but that’s not what I said. Refer to previous points I make in this comment for clarification. I don’t like how it’s presented on the album, which is a valid criticism. You’re right on the opening line being arrogant, as I get why that comes across in the wrong way. What I meant is that, given how Sturgill is tired of the music industry in general, things like reviews and other puff pieces feel inessential to the larger conversation. Ironic, I know, but I think it’s at least worth pointing that out in a review itself, which goes back to me wanting my reviews to be larger conversation pieces over personal recommendations. But you’re right, I could change that to make it come across better. That’s my mistake.

      I don’t know, Josh, I think you’re letting an isolated incident fuel your own anger against me for one review. I know you’re a huge Sturgill Simpson fan – I myself like all of his albums, too, though not as much as everyone else (which, for the record, I’ve been honest about), and I get why some will be disappointed in this review. But I’m not trying to shut anyone out. I’m not saying I have the right answers or that my perspective is better than anyone else’s – my reviews have always been long-winded. Is that a valid criticism? Of course, and I’m well aware of it, but at the same time, I like to go long in order to discuss the full picture, and only each individual reader can decide if I did a good enough job at that. You think I didn’t with this review, which is cool, but I don’t think all of the criticisms are fair. If you want further clarification on anything, feel free to ask.

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      1. You’re right, I should have asked for more clarification and I probably did let my passion get the best of me when writing the comment above. So I apologize for that. But I will say something I always said before: I only criticize because I care. And my comment did not come from a place of malice. But I will admit anger still lingers from me having to shut down Country Perspective. We’ve discussed this privately before, but I will state something publicly that I never said before: I never wanted to shut down CP and nobody knows how much it crushed me to do it. I spent two years convincing myself that it was right to move on from it. But I never could believe it. No, I was basically forced to shut it down. All the damn pressure was closing in and I had reached a point where I was no longer believing what I was writing and I had let everybody else basically turn me into something I was not. Then when I was being honest (that Mo Pitney review), everybody just left me in droves it felt like. It was like I was only liked because I was parroting what everybody else was thinking, not because they liked me and my writing. It was demoralizing. Then I’ve watched you and other build your blogs through my comments and continue on after I was gone and it created a bitterness and resentment within me that I’m finally letting go of, but unfortunately a little bit slipped through above. And I apologize because I know it wasn’t your or Megan’s fault. It was also hypocritical of me because like Megan correctly points out below, I did it with SCM. Also another reason I shut down CP: I was hypocrite for shunning him while using him for gain. It was wrong and now that I’ve got CP back to zero, now I’m going to build it honestly and not spend my time attacking other bloggers. I had to go back to zero if I truly wanted to do blogging right and not be a fucking hypocrite. And I honestly don’t have a problem with SCM anymore. I really don’t, but I still take issue with his rambling reviews because I’ve really enjoyed some of his opinion pieces this year. Again, I criticize because I care. I said it when I started CP and I’ll say it again: I thank SCM and Grady Smith for introducing me to the likes of Simpson and Isbell. And I still regret to this day the last interaction I had with Grady on Twitter. But at the same I don’t have to agree with everything they say nor anybody else. It would be boring if we all agreed too. I don’t have personal vendettas against you or anyone. I’ve finally reached a point where I’m confident enough to be honest, for better or worse. That was an issue completely on me and I take responsibility for. And that’s why I’ve eased backed into blogging. At the end of the day a lot of the anger is at myself and again I’m sorry for taking it out on you and not better articulating my issues with your review. Basically I realize what I should have said without letting my own bias as a Sturgill fan clouding my comment was that I wish you had spent a bit more time on the music itself and not so much Sturgill himself. But at the same time I can understand the reasoning, as a lot of the album’s lyrics come from his personal anger and ego. You simply had a different viewpoint that while I felt was a bit unfair, but at the same time it’s reasonable. Also you and Megan both bring up the Maren review and I was 100% in the wrong for it. And that’s why I’m never writing reviews about artists I personally hate again. Making reviews personal is something I should have never done and I’m not doing it again. That’s why I kind of perceived your review as doing the same, but I projected and assumed and that was wrong of me. I look back in anger at that hit piece on traditionalists too. It was fucking bullshit and that’s why you’ll never see that blog or post again. I was fucking embarrassed at some of the shit I wrote and I wish you guys had just called me out on it sooner. Fusion Country started out as a fun experiment that turned into me just projecting my anger at having to shut down the blog I never wanted to stop writing at. At the end of the day I just want to talk country music and other music too with you guys. I feel left out because I’m not on Twitter and able to interact with you. And instead of doing the right thing and reaching out to you to say hey and reconnect, I basically went back into my old habit and posted an unnecessarily angry comment towards you. I’m sorry and I hope me being transparent with you shows that I truly want to get along and just talk music. Please make sure Megan sees this too.

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      2. Josh,

        While I will reply to your comment in the open here, for the record, my email is HYPERLINK “mailto:themusicaldivide@gmail.com” themusicaldivide@gmail.com if you ever want to talk. That hasn’t changed (I just don’t display it on the contact page because I don’t want people pitching me here – perhaps a grudge/bias I need to let go of too). And, if you want me to delete the comments here out of respect for privacy, I’m happy to either do that or let them stay here.

        Anyway, I admit to being taken aback at your comment, but I’m not angry or upset. I understand your comment had good intentions, and, as I admitted, some of your criticisms were valid. But you just can’t resist bringing SCM, Miranda Lambert and Cody Jinks into the conversation, who are all completely irrelevant to the point, and alright, if honesty is what you want, fine, I can tell the comment is mostly a reflection of a Sturgill Simpson fan hurt over a meaningless review.

        Though if you do think my reviews are poor lately, that’s an understandable issue, and if you meant that, I’d like to know which ones, or if this website isn’t for you anymore, no hard feelings – really. And I’m sorry to bring up your past baggage into the open. As you know, though, thoughts and opinions change. I still like that piece you referenced of mine (I forgot it was one of my few Banjo Brothers originals), but let me clarify (after going back to read it again) where I’m coming from with my reviews: yes, I still think it’s good to let your personality through, but understand that I wrote that at a time where I thought that was all that mattered. Over time, I’ve come to realize that I don’t know just who’s reading my pieces, and I need to write knowing that these pieces will circulate beyond just a few close friends of mine who understand where I’m personally coming from. Basically, if one is to review art, even for fun, there has to be a level of respect to the craft that I didn’t want to acknowledge when writing that piece. I thought I had the answers when I still needed more pieces of the puzzle – and this will be a running theme of this comment, but I’ve learned to accept that’s alright. Reading a website like Kyle’s Korner has only made me further realize that one can write in a more professional manner without (one) sounding like an elitist asshole and (two) sounding amateurish or defensive. Maybe this comes down to a simple disagreement, but while you think my past posts were better, I’m more ashamed of past reviews of, say, Walker Hayes, Dustin Lynch and Courtney Marie Andrews than I am of anything written this year, because, believe it or not, I HAVE tried to look past my own perspective when reviewing art, and it’s helped a lot. And hell, features like my Pop Goes The Country are just a looser version of what I had at Swamp Opera.

        Still, you’ve made me realize certain posts have come across in the wrong way, but, in my defense, that’s due to an overzealous passion driving me when I don’t even know where to start (my Zac Brown Band review reflects that, and even with some regrets I have about that opening statement, it was still one of the nicer reviews for it). In any case, it’s always better to lay those criticisms out constructively rather than leave a vicious comment, especially when, as you say, we haven’t spoken in I don’t know how long – surely you see the fault is in the execution over the criticisms themselves?

        But alright, if criticism is what you want, here goes: you need to give people a better chance. I know certain sectors of the country music fandom are complete assholes. You think I don’t know that not everyone is actually reading every word I say? The point of the “short version,” “long version” thing is for people to see the score, get a good feel, and decide where they go from there – if they want to read ahead, enjoy the journey, but if they don’t feel like it, whatever. It gives me the opportunity to go more in depth with what I’m trying to say. What you see as long-winded is me trying to tackle every angle, which comes down to a taste in style, and I’m not saying I don’t need to get better at it. Personally, I’ve always thought the track-by-track thing you do to be a little lacking in the overall picture, but if it’s what makes you happy, that’s what matters.

        Back to the main point, though, I completely understand your frustrations with how you ran CP toward its end. Personally, I have to side with Megan (who, btw, I never drove here to comment in the first place, though I appreciate her input, and yes, I did send a message to her when you asked me to, and it looks like she commented before I did). You know what ticked me off, man? It was one line, and I can’t even remember the fucking piece – you said “don’t be mean to Blake Shelton, or else people at Warner won’t give you William Michael Morgan’s new album early” (I’m paraphrasing). What that said to me was that you lost your sense of direction – hypocritical, I know, considering that was right around the time I decided to write under a pseudonym at Country Music Minds, but maybe if I had been honest or Megan had, things would have been different. I’m sorry for how I treated you during that time. I know I didn’t handle that well. Still, another issue I’ve had with your style is that you seem to care about gaining a readership without valuing the ones you have. Yeah, I get a lot of people left – you probably still had more readers than Megan or I ever will have combined, and I know it fucking sucks, but you still had me, Megan, Derek, Andy, Amanda, Nadia Eaton, and other users who went by obscure usernames who cared, man. WE liked you for you, me because it was cool knowing someone only a little older than me was as passionate about country music as I was. You say you were jealous about Megan and I growing our websites after you left, but why not be proud of what you helped inspire? Instead you cared more about users fleeing who you didn’t like anyway either, and I’m genuinely sorry that got to you.

        And you know what, for as much as I’ve tried to be your friend and tell you those past posts suck, I can’t, because they didn’t. You got consumed in arrogance and pride and decided to hide behind a thinly-veiled propaganda piece, so no wonder people got rubbed the wrong way. And I can’t say much beyond that because I get it, but I’ve found that if you approach people in a friendly manner, chances are they’ll at least not be so hostile toward you and maybe understand where you’re coming from, even if they don’t agree. In one of your recent reviews, you say that, had Luke Bryan or FGL recorded “Codigo,” people would ask for the death penalty for them – how is this any better than my above Sturgill review? How is this going to make people want to see your point?

        It’s hard, too, as print really restricts us in terms of sharing an opinion while still coming across in the right way. That’s why I think Grady’s got it covered on YouTube, because despite sharing opinions no less controversial than anything you, Megan or I sometimes say, he’s able to say it in a way that makes people understand and can show emotion, which is hard to do in writing. Things are EASILY misconstrued.

        You say you don’t want to write reviews for artists you hate, but that’s not the way to go about it either. Believe it or not, I have skipped out on covering certain albums this year due to my own personal bias. The debut album from Vincent Neil Emerson is the most recent one, and despite liking his music, Chris King is too much of an asshole on Twitter for me to care about his upcoming project. No, I’ve never loved Sturgill to the same degree as everyone else, but as you said, what fun would it be if we agreed? His new album actually helped me understand him, though, better than any other album he had released thus far. How would I know that if I decided, “nah, it’s not a country album, so why bother?” Maren Morris is another fantastic example – I don’t like either of her two albums, yet unlike you, I have no problems giving her (or any other artist/band) a fair chance for something new. If I completely dismissed her, I would have missed out on the Highwomen, for example, one of my personal favorite albums of the year. And there are artists this year whose work I haven’t liked in the past that I’m happy to say have an album I love now – Mike and the Moonpies, John Paul White, Jack Ingram … not to mention the enormous amount of debut albums that I had to give a chance to see if I’d like it.

        And you know what, I don’t buy it when you say that – otherwise, you wouldn’t have owned up to the fact that you love the Moonpies latest record or even given it a chance, and I can make the same case for Cody Johnson, at least in the “chance” department. I think you’ll come to find there’s a better way to achieve what it is you’re going for, though I understand how tough it is to get there. You claim to watch me, Megan and others from afar building up websites and it looking like sunshine and rainbows from your position, but what are we supposed to do, Josh? I tried reaching out to you through email when CP folded – you never answered me back. Hell, you seem to just disappear on your own terms and expect people to magically follow you wherever you go (and yes, I’m in the exact same boat, but maybe we both need to hear this, so bare with me). As you know by now, yes, I know about CP’s relaunch thanks to Derek private messaging me about it. I haven’t commented yet because it seemed like you were having fun and needed your space before you were really ready to make a comeback. I thought I might get in the way of that, so I’ve only watched from afar. Moreover, though, after Fusion Country, I’ll admit to being puzzled at the huge shift in course as to the types of acts covered.

        But you’d be surprised how much we still have in common, old friend. Again, if TMD isn’t for you anymore, I totally get it, but I don’t agree that I’ve faltered in any way. For the first time ever, I’m not embarrassed by anything I’ve written. That’s not to say my thoughts haven’t changed on certain matters – I went from being against Lil Nas X to seeing that was stupid, for one example. You try to hide from your problems – and to an extent, by deleting my past posts from this website, I am too – and yet, neither you or I have it figured out, Josh. We’ve both had conversations with each other in private where I’m sure we’d come to different conclusions on matters. The same goes for 2017 … and 2016 … and 2015 … and 2014 …

        We’re going to fuck up again inevitably, and we can’t run away from that. For as much as I wanted to be critical of Fusion Country at points, I knew it was your journey you had to go on man, and don’t forget that the year it operated wasn’t so easy for me either. Me, you think it’s so easy over here, and you don’t know how many times I’ve come close to shutting this place down again out of fatigue. But then I give it a day, I escape this website to get back to real life, which no, isn’t always as good sometimes, but it helps to walk away without burning everything down in the process. And I find that passion again.

        I wish you the best with the relaunch of Country Perspective – but I’ll end with this – you feeling left out isn’t mine, Megan’s or anyone else’s fault. You’ve always been welcome to send me an email, leave a comment (not even just on a post, but on the About section, the Contact section, … etc.), or do whatever else. I understand you have an aversion to Twitter – I myself have, despite telling myself I wouldn’t, gone off the rails sometimes, though I mostly use it just to share posts and … wait for it … have an easy line of communication with friends. I get that people who see Country Perspective being back on social media would raise red flags, but also understand that the people sad when you left are the ones that hung around through the worst of it and who miss you for your thoughts and what YOU meant to them, Josh. Give people a chance, man. And hell, I’d even be happy to discuss Freddie Gibb’s ‘Bandana’ with you (we can even discuss ‘Pinata,’ or any Gibbs album!)

        Lastly, I’ll say that a lot of this stuff is stuff I should have said before, and please understand how it hard it is to really be honest with a friend. I appreciate you for being honest with what you felt about my Sturgill review, and I hope we can move on from this.

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      3. Josh, I hope you see this because apparently I can’t reply directly to you. I respect the hell out of your comment here and your willingness to be transparent. This is something I always respected about you because we disagreed quite often, but you didn’t seem to let it bother you. When I wrote a reply to that genre piece I mentioned, you shocked me by putting it on Twitter for everyone to read. This is the thing I have always respected most about you. While we have never had a private conversation, and I certainly don’t know the details, I will say for what it’s worth that the reason I began to disagree with you at Country Perspective and take issue with the things you posted was because I saw exactly what you refer to here, that you were not being yourself. I for one liked you for you, and when I started to feel that you were parroting and saying what you thought people wanted to hear, then I started to enjoy your writing less. I know that maybe I was in the minority, and that when you were honest, people left, but the people like myself who liked you and your writing for what they were appreciated that. I always felt very sad that you gave into that pressure, that you felt like you had to shut it down. When you left, you told us all that you had been wanting to quit for 6 months. Now I see that you didn’t. But I guess I won’t ever understand why you felt like you had to. But it’s not important now. The point is, I don’t always agree with the things Zack writes, or the things Trigger writes, or anyone else, but I read them for their honesty and because I respect their opinions. In my humble opinion, I thought back then that you were losing that honesty that made me enjoy your writing in the first place–and now you’ve confirmed that–and it was that that changed my opinions. I know it’s much easier said than done, and this comes from someone who will never have the reach or influence that you did with Country Perspective, but be yourself, and readers will come, and they will be the kind you want, free thinkers who are loyal and who offer discussion and civil dissent. An echo chamber is boring.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’d say this is none of my business and between you all, but you’ve posted it out here for everyone to read, so you’ve made it everyone’s business.
      First of all, I haven’t been around regularly in 2019 and have therefore not read all of Zack’s reviews, but it seems that you’ve been disappointed for awhile, and had your own ax to grind, and have just let it out here. As for this review, for me it reads as if Zack is speaking about Sturgill’s perception of himself, and his mindset going into this album. Reviews are meant to be a listener’s experience and cannot be totally free of bias, but it is important to see the larger impact also, as well as the artist’s frame of mind, and this is what I believe Zack is doing here. This is what he says in his reply also, but it’s for him to tell you exactly what he meant by these things.
      But as far as arrogance, this comment screams of it, as you simultaneously criticize Zack and manage to rip ScM at the same time. As a reviewer, I welcome criticism and can take it all day long, but this seems somewhat hypocritical, as I remember you getting some of your start from sCM and commenting there frequently. But I recognize that people and opinions change, just as I commented at Country Perspective often and later came to disagree with a good portion of things you wrote there. But you speak about attacking fans and artists over personal vendettas, and I recall a piece on Country Perspective which did just that: Don’t You Think This Whole Propaganda Bit’s Done Gout out of Hand, a piece in which you also slammed sCM and then tried to deny it; you say Zack doesn’t have the courage to say fuck Sturgill, but this is exactly what you did with that piece towards SCM, an outlet that in some ways helped establish you by bringing you readers, and you insulted its readers, who were also in many cases your readers, by telling them they’d been sucked into this propaganda thing and that they shouldn’t wish for the “saving” of country music. Then you created Fusion Country, a thinly veiled attack on traditional country and its fans. While it is true that traditionalists can be close-minded, you went to the other extreme and adopted an arrogant, dismissive attitude toward them. This is why I stopped reading Fusion Country; the whole thing screamed of bias and anger. Instead of preaching balance between the traditional and contemporary, you seemed to say fuck traditional country and its fans, let’s only embrace the progressive, genre-bending stuff. Then you came back to Country Perspective and said you wanted to bury the hatchet with all blogs, yet here you are again with your own ax to grind against SCM again.
      Your point about Lambert is a good one, that sometimes our personal biases get in the way of reviews, and in some instances, it’s better not to review something. Yet you spent most of the review of “Girl” attacking Maren Morris’s image and the way the media has portrayed her, not unlike what Zack has done here by trying to establish Simpson’s frame of mind. While I respect that you wrote this believing Zack is a “better” writer, the only thing that seems arrogant to me is your comment, not this review or Zack’s opinions. And if you want to speak about disappointment, it is disappointing to me, as someone who was inspired partly by your writing, just as Zack was, to see the changes from you and the way you seem to come off as angry more often than not. I believe you are better than that. Feel free to ignore my comment as well if you so choose.

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  2. Thank you Megan! I really appreciate that you enjoyed my writing and appreciated me for me. And I know Zack did too. I enjoyed my writing less too when I parroted. I really did want to quit at the time due to my personal frustration and like I said while I didn’t want to deep down, I needed the break at the same time too. I was pushing myself too hard. I wasn’t happy that I gave into the pressure and I wasn’t happy about how I built things. So while I didn’t want to quit, at the same time I felt “burning it down” was like the only way I could fix and undo what I had done. It’s complicated. But that’s in the past. Now I’m going to be as honest as possible, while also respecting and embracing the opinions of other bloggers and readers like when I first did CP. I appreciate your kind and encouraging words and I hope to build CP into what I always wanted (and really what it once was when I started it) instead of what it became.

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    1. meganconley713@gmail.com
      Please shoot me an email, I’m always happy to talk, and I hate social media too.
      As for wanting/needing to burn it all down, I actually understand that, especially recently, although for very different reasons. But I think as Zack said, our journeys are not all that different, and I’ll add that it is good to be able to encourage each other through it. That is one thing you helped happen indirectly, and I’m sorry for the jealousy that occurred, but through both of us writing and starting around the same time, Zack and I have been there to help each other through various things, some of which in hindsight seem like pretty stupid things to fret about now 🙂 Anyway, it is good to have that connection, but I will agree with Zack that both of us and others have been here and would not have left you isolated if you had only reached out.
      I could say more, but Zack has already done it more eloquently than I’d have been able to. I hope that you will be able to build CP into what you always wanted it to be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! I still need to set up an email again for CP, but once I do I’ll reach out. I’m sorry for my jealousy, as it was easy for me from the outside to perceive you guys as free and easy to write what you want, while I felt like I couldn’t. But as Zack correctly points out above, it’s easy to look from the outside and assume things. I shouldn’t have done that and something you’ll see in my reply to Zack that I address. My isolation was my own doing and I shouldn’t have blamed others for it. I’m going to do my best moving forward to have a better attitude and be more mindful.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Zack, thank you for the brutal honesty and I will reach out to you in an email. And hey I don’t blame you at all for displaying it publicly. This definitely wasn’t the right venue for this discussion probably and I should have reached out privately to discuss this, but I let my own damn pride get in the way. So, yes feel free to delete this in a couple of days if you would like. I feel terrible for hijacking your comments for this discussion.

    But I am glad this discussion is happening. Because you hit the nail on the head and it is lesson I have learned this year and really why I think I was able to finally come back to CP and write: I DO need to give people a chance. I have written people off unfairly, both online and IRL. And it has cost me relationships in both. It’s a hard lesson I had to learn. And I realize ironically part of why I wrote others off was because I felt others did the same to me. So naturally you want to lash out back. We’re all human and we all have our moments where we put our emotions before logic.

    As far as the three topics I’ve liked to constantly rehash in the past, I only brought those up to show my own faults and biases and also for you to know it was me commenting, not some other Josh. Hey, I’m self-aware I got bit obsessed with them in talking about them in the past. And I would like to review the Miranda album, as long as I feel I can write it without letting my feelings for her personal actions not cloud me from writing a fair review. You’re right I shouldn’t have said you should just ignore covering artists in reviews, but rather put that album on the shelf until you feel you can address it properly. Bad wording on my part. This was a big thing that grinded my gears when Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods came out. I felt like people were only criticizing it because it felt more like they personally attacking him instead of talking about why the music is bad. It’s one of my new pet peeves and something that I vow to avoid in my reviews now. I thought you were kind of doing that with this review, but again I shouldn’t have assumed. I hope that clears up where I was coming from.

    There’s still a few things I felt you mischaracterized about this album, but I will explain better in my review how I viewed this album in contrast to your review. And what I do feel you mischaracterized wasn’t unfair or unreasonable, just simply a different take. Again I’ll address it in the review because I don’t want to keep posting giant chunks of paragraphs and taking away from you comments.

    Thanks for clarifying on that piece on reviews and blogging. I still think it’s one of your best pieces, as I think showing your personality in reviews is important to show the uniqueness of your voice. And yes, there should be a level of professionalism and respect. But I think you’ve done a pretty good job in this regard for a while. And I don’t ever see you cover things that are outside of your depth. I guess my criticisms would be the length, which hey I understand it can be difficult when trying to cover every angle and something that gets better with repetition. Much like an album that’s too long with several great songs, less can be more. The other criticism would be the TL;DR at the top, which I saw your reasoning for and I understand, but I just feel like they can devalue reviews because a lot of people will just read that and not the review, which feels self-defeating. But I guess understand too that you can’t force people to read everything and that you should just be grateful that they glanced your way. So I guess I would say just be careful of devaluing your own writing. Also I agree on the track by track thing. I tried that once (I think only once?) and afterwards I hated it haha.

    In regards to the Shelton/Morgan thing, the piece you’re thinking of was my label review piece. And it was only written to give me an excuse to bitch about that topic. I’ll totally admit to that and in hindsight, it did mess up my priorities. It was easy to do when you have major labels, Dolly Parton and Dwight Yoakam’s camps acknowledging you exist. And that’s why later I was 1000% against taking pitches from artists and labels. It’s why I’m so anti-Twitter. It brings out the worst in you, just like it did to me. So it’s natural to want to avoid those things. Any kind of “fame” does this and I guess that’s one of the reasons why I connect with Sturgill. On a very small scale I experienced that, as egotistical as that sounds. Again something I will elaborate on with my review on this album.

    The line about Codigo was an attempt at hyperbolic humor, while also trying to show how fans can sometimes have blind spots for their favorite artists. But hey you and I both have blind spots as fans and reviewers too, so I guess pot meet kettle. Text is hard to coney connotation as you said and Grady is killing it on YouTube in getting his honest and insightful opinions across. So I did a poor job in getting that across, despite still standing by in my criticism of the song.

    LOL I agree on King. And I definitely will be giving my thoughts on The Highwomen. I’ve honestly gotten over Morris’ personality and I think I can write fairly about her now (I couldn’t back in January) and really my biggest issue with writing a review for that album is I have little to say because it just bored me to tears. I’m surprised at the little amount of hooks on it. So me reviewing that feels like I would bring little value with my thoughts on it.

    Honestly I thought you guys would have no clue that I relaunched. I figured after Fusion Country and me not being on Twitter, that you guys had moved on. But again I assumed incorrectly. I figured I was literally starting over. As far as the wide variety of acts covered, are asking about now or when I was doing Fusion Country? I just want to clarify. If you’re referring to now with the relaunched CP, it’s because now I feel I can cover other genres effectively and because I want to do it. I believe we’ve had this discussion, but before I told you I wasn’t confident enough to cover other genres despite wanting to do so. One of the benefits I did reap in my two years away from CP was that I’ve spent a lot more time listening to other genres and spending time in discussion forums for other genres, which is something I couldn’t do before when doing CP. This has gave me some fresh perspectives and opened my eyes I feel, which has shifted how I look at and review music a bit too. It’s made me feel more informed and a better all around music fan. By covering both country and other genres, I want to try to bridge the gap with fans with genres and artists they may not be familiar with. Maybe I can convince a country fan to give rap a try and maybe I can get a Carly Rae Jepsen fan to try country. So yeah you busted me in the not giving a chance thing because that’s why I tried to do with Fusion Country and what I’m trying to do again with CP, but this time I’m trying to do it the right way. Looking back I should have explained all of this when I relaunched CP, but I was really itching to just write again and I thought I could just demonstrate this through the reviews.

    And yes again it’s totally on me, you’re exactly right. I just want to move on and get along, but again I’m glad we got all of this out in the open too. And damn I’m just realizing how long this comment is getting. Holy shit! But yes please lets discuss that Gibbs album. I welcome your thoughts. I hope we can all let bygones be bygones and do what makes us happy and of course discuss music.

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    1. Josh, don’t feel bad. My comment section is usually a ghost town, haha. I’m not saying it’s always easy to be objective. The new Brantley Gilbert album is testing that for me as we speak, haha, and I actually haven’t cared for the majority of the upcoming ML tracks, but I have to believe in the best side of things. In a way, that’s MY project for the year.

      I covered Justin’s album on the “old” TMD, and that cynical attitude was right on display in that review. I may not be proud of what I did at Country Music Minds, but there was something to my simplicity and naivety (and lack of confidence) that kept me grounded, whereas in 2018, I felt jaded toward everyone, just like you, and that I had something they say that others didn’t. That’s why I say to not be so hard on your past self, because there’s always part of our past that have helped us grow, despite the bad.

      Again, a disagreement on the Sturgill album is fine. To be fair, isn’t it better that this album inspired such strong discourse over … well, nothing? Sturgill does have that ability, haha. I did want to like this a lot, trust me. It was important for me to look outside a country frame of mind for this review, and, as I also said in the review, this album is quite the adrenaline rush when you don’t nitpick it to death, haha.

      I won’t lie – I’ve taken on the role of a critic this year, a label I used to despise. But it’s alarming when I post reviews, and not even an hour later, someone affiliated with the artist I’m covering (or the artist themselves) shares my post. I don’t do this for them, but it does help me realize that I need to look at this from a larger point of review, just out of pure respect. No, I don’t think Sturgill would like this review, but it happens sometimes. I can’t just pretend like this is always going to be easy or that I’m always going to “get it.” I used to make fun of the fact that critics were supposed to “contextualize history,” but now I realize that it’s easy to look in hindsight. It’s better to get thoughts out in the open now, because even if they prove to be “wrong” later, it’s still a great learning experience. I’m probably wrong about Sturgill, but it’s a perspective I believed in, and I only tried to say what I thought Sturgill was trying to tell us. I look forward to your thoughts.

      I admit there might be some cynicism I couldn’t see with my intentions in the short/long version thing. Sometimes I think it is helpful, and sometimes I do get carried away. It’s tough.

      We only moved on because … what else could we do? I even checked your Medium account to see if you had gone back there, but nothing.

      I’m referring to the actual country acts you’ve covered. Remember, I didn’t understand your mindset, so when I see you cover Dee White (someone you’ve covered before) and, say, Cody Johnson (someone you haven’t really liked if memory serves correctly?), I was just … idk, surprised. And the acts seemed rather all over the place, tbh. I was happy thought to see reviews for Carly and Freddie, because it showed me you were finding your spark again. Again, I thought it’d be best to leave you be until later.

      I’m trying to bridge gaps too man. Part of why I wanted to cover Sturgill, despite it maybe being pointless, was because I had seen comments comparing what he was doing to Zac Brown Band. I thought that was unfair to Sturgill, so I wanted to give it a proper review without any mention of his past country career. Yes, in a way I guess that’s egotistical, but isn’t it inherently arrogant to occupy any corner of the web? I think that’s where questioning intentions comes into play.

      I’m sorry my comment has run long again, but there’s obviously a lot to say.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, but I deserved this criticism and I like to try to make it as constructive as possible so I can grow. You said it best: we can all learn and grow from our mistakes. Haha I had forgotten that Brantley was releasing an album. It feels like there was no releases for like two months and now everybody is dropping an album haha.

        Sturgill definitely generates discussion that’s for sure. Love him or hate him, he gets people talking and you can’t really say that about a lot of artists. I honestly expected a much bigger backlash against it. But I think it “softened the blow” by saying ahead of time it wasn’t country. Which is something Zac Brown Band could learn from and I’ll be having a lot of thoughts on that album too.

        A great point on realizing the greater perspective in writing reviews and realizing more people see it than you first think. And I’m glad you didn’t fall into the trap I did of worrying about everybody liking you when you become aware of the greater audience reading you. It’s always a balancing act of honesty and professionalism, as emotions can tend to taint both.

        My Medium account is still up? I figured it was deleted when I deleted Twitter. Huh, I guess I’ll have to go take a look that then haha.

        Ah okay now I understand about the acts covered. I actually like Cody Johnson and I enjoyed his last independent album. He’s another artist I realized I unfairly judged. I also picked that album to cover because I wanted to demonstrate early on that I’m not going to just write about albums I like and I’m going to write about all types of albums across the spectrum. His album happened to be the one I chose and also one I had many opinions on. Like I would put the Hozier album along the same lines as that Cody Johnson album in terms of grade, but I wouldn’t have as much to say.

        It’s kind of weird restarting mid-year, so it feels a bit jumbled as I play catch up. So I can understand the confusion. Like I just I wanted to show right away that I’m going to cover all kinds of albums. Once I get caught up it will flow better.

        And yep we’re all a little arrogant for wanting our own little corner on the web. Then expecting people to care on top of it. Anyway this was ultimately a good talk with you and Megan. And I’ll remember not to be a stranger.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Before I comment on this particular album, a little context:

    I’m a big Sturgill Simpson fan. High Top Mountain and MSICM are both great albums. I saw him when he toured for ASGTE and it was easily one of the top 2 or 3 shows I’ve ever been to. I think ASGTE is a very good album as well, but I don’t listen to it nearly as much as his first two, since it is less traditional country-sounding. (But Sea Stories is one of my favourite songs of his).

    I almost exclusively listen to non-commercial country music (and some Americana). I like listening to a good rock or rap or pop song (or album) every now and then (and my tastes vary wildly amongst these other genres) but I’m not very familiar with much current rock music. However, since I like Sturgill Simpson, I listened to this album. I’ve only listened once so far and I know I won’t come back to it as a full album very frequently, but there are some songs here that I can see myself listening to regularly.

    Do I hope that his “last” album will be another country album? Of course. Do I think it will be? Probably not, but he’s been able to make the music he wants, which is always a good thing, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I think it’s good he’s branching out to do what he wants. Actually, doing some research on the synthwave genre was pretty fun for this review, and while I don’t think Sturgill nails the sound consistently, it’s definitely fascinating!

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