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Third Eye Blind - Screamer Music Album Reviews

Third Eye Blind - Screamer Music Album Reviews On the band’s sixth album, frontman Stephan Jenkins Peter Pans his way through an improbably infectious set of would-be hits.
If he had less ambition and a lower tolerance for failure, Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins could be sipping Mai Tais with Mark McGrath on the deck of a ’90s rock cruise right now, enjoying a life of royalty checks and low expectations. Instead, he’s carried on as if any year might be the one where his group finally reclaims its former glory. Everything he does is a long-shot bid for relevance: He covers Bon Iver, records bold political statements, and generally does the last thing we ask from the second-tier figures of alt-rock’s yesteryear: He tries.



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Sturgill Simpson - SOUND & FURY Music Album Reviews

Sturgill Simpson - SOUND & FURY Music Album Reviews
The fourth album from the country outlaw is another left-turn with synth-rock at its scuzziest, boogie-rock at its cheesiest, all held together by Simpson’s fearless songwriting.

In 2017, Sturgill Simpson publicly declared that Nashville—every country musician’s master—does not dictate who he is or what his music sounds like. After his third studio album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Simpson busked outside the 2017 CMAs in protest of a statement CMA sent to journalists demanding they refrain from asking artists about the Las Vegas massacre, gun rights, or politics in general. One of the signs in his open guitar case read, mockingly, “Struggling country singer.” If the country music establishment didn’t feel he was fit for them, he’d show them that they were correct. He expands on this idea on SOUND & FURY, his fourth full-length, an extension of that protest in album—and anime—form. The album is the soundtrack to an accompanying Netflix film, which is essentially a 41-minute music video.

Fitting, then, that the album opener is titled “Ronin,” meaning a wandering samurai with no master. The song kicks off with some grade-A foley work—boots crunching rocks on a dirt road, an old gas-guzzler wheezing to life, Alex Jones on the radio—and evolves into a swampy extended guitar solo that lays bare Simpson’s intentions for the rest of the album. Across 10 tracks, Simpson trades subtlety and plaintive guitar work for full-bore skronk and sleaze. It’s a hard but fearless turn away from what Simpson’s calling card of blurring the lines between just country and psychedelia. On SOUND & FURY, Simpson throws both genres into the trunk of his car and does 85 down the backroads.

Musically, SOUND & FURY has more in common with ZZ Top’s 1983 album Eliminator than Merle Haggard’s Hag—or any country album, really. The tracks are woven together by the car radio first heard on “Ronin,” as if Simpson is changing the station for us, showing that he can glide between synth-rock, glam, dancefloor-fillers; songwriting is king in his world. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a dreamy campfire song—there are none here, by the way—or a two-minute instrumental stomper. Simpson is the one dictating his sound, take it or leave it.

What works for Simpson is when he lets his soulful voice shine through, like on “All Said and Done,” the closest fans will get to a Simpson song of yore on the album, or “Mercury in Retrograde,” a bouncy pop tune with electric strings and a fluttering synth about fake friends who barge on to his tour bus to ask him if his songs are about them. This one is.

What doesn’t quite land are tracks like “A Good Look,” co-written with John Prine, if you can believe it. It’s a frenetic disco-funk song, with a police-siren lead guitar and an overworked bassist. Its genuinely interesting and introspective lines about creating art, like, “I write my poems in the dirt with an oily rag/I have to wear a gas mask just so I don’t gag” become frustrating afterthoughts when followed by an incessant cowbell. There are a few more moments like this, where Simpson’s reliance on ’80s disco and funk often feels more like artifice than art, a reactionary and deliberate hard-right away from what has served him so well in the past: lush, beautiful soundscapes and sweeping choruses.

The lyrics from “Make Art Not Friends,” anticipate such criticism. The song begins with an extended arpeggiated synth part that wouldn’t sound out of place on Tangerine Dream’s Tangram, before eventually evolving into a cohesive thesis for the album. “This town’s getting crowded, the truth’s been shrouded. I think it’s time to change up the sound,” Simpson croons. “The wheels keep turning, the flames get higher, another cycle rolls around.”

Simpson has always looked for an escape. His first album, High Top Mountain, was his traditional country debut, a hail-mary attempt to make it; Metamodern Sounds in Country Music was his refutation of that style, with stoned panache; and he said he wrote A Sailor’s Guide to Earth because “people think I wake up in the morning and pour LSD on my Cheerios.” SOUND & FURY is miles down the road from any of his previous albums. As the album’s closer, “Fastest Horse in Town,” reaches the seven-minute mark and the radio sounds return, we hear that same car from “Ronin” revving up and speeding away. He’s likely already done with this sound, and on to the next one. Hell, he told his wife a few years ago that he’d make a bluegrass record someday composed of ’80s covers of her choosing. Only the real ones will be along for this ride, but, as he sings on “Mercury in Retrograde,” the album’s penultimate track, “the road to hell is paved with cruel intentions.” He’ll travel it solo if need be.

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