1. Sturgill Simpson A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
This is the big one for me today. Simpson’s last two albums were full of classic-sounding country tunes that drew frequent but apt comparisons to Waylon Jennings. His last album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, earned him “next big thing” status with a lot of journalists and critics. So on Earth, Simpson blows everything up and sees how it might fit back together.
Earth expands Simpson’s sound in a big way. That’s clear within the first few second of “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog),” which sounds like a transition from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Then the delicate piano comes in, followed by the strings. Intrigued? Wait ‘til you get to 2:44 when Simpson snaps into booty-shaking full-on soul, that electric piano spiking just a bit into the reds. “Keep It Between the Lines” is some hard country funk with big rock guitar solos. And we haven’t even gotten to his twang and trip cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” yet. “Brace For Impact (Live A Little)” has got a bit of “Young Lust” in it, but wherever Simpson roams here, he doesn’t stay too long in one place. It’s a bit dizzying. This is an album I’m going to want to listen to on “repeat” to catch everything. And that might take a while.
Second Impression 4/16: This is a mic drop of an album. I got my physical copy of and spent a day driving around listening to it on repeat so it could hit me with no distractions. And hit me it did. The album is relentless. “Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)” serves as an overture, and the rest of the album is one longer piece. Simpson doesn’t take the traditional pause between tracks. Some blend seamlessly, some have some interstitial sound effects or interludes, or there is a near unnoticeable space. The two main modes – achingly delicate and horns with the hammer down – are both contained on the opening track and then toggled for the rest of the album. Sometimes it’s song to song, like “Breakers Roar” to “Keep It Between the Lines,” and sometimes it within one song again, like Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” which sets at the center of the album and recalibrates it. It will be interesting to see if he keeps the song sequence the same when he plays this material live. How this album rises and falls is a thing of beauty to be studied. It reflects on the lyrical content well, too. The theme is either growing up or just going into the world as an innocent and trying to navigate right from wrong, devotion to others versus satisfying your ego, and just what works versus what’s useless. And it ends with “Call To Arms,” with Simpson singing “Bullshit on my TV/Bullshit on my radio/Hollywood telling me how to be/That bullshit has to go.” It’s ornery, profane, and celebratory. And there’s a buildup there toward the end where the band forms a vortex around the rhythm sections and threatens to spin completely out of control before it coalesces into one glorious sprint to the finish. If you have blood in your veins, this album is for you.
2. Touched By Ghoul Murder Circus
How could I, who writes a blog that purports to cover music and horror, ignore a band called Touched By Ghoul, whose new album is called Murder Circus, with a punchy lead track named “Nice Corpse?” I enjoy a good cacophony as much as anyone, and Ghouls is fond of bashing around creepy and uncomfortable imagery with fuzzy guitars and a bit of screaming. If you are a fan of Rob Zombie’s films, you might want to give this a listen.