From the very first listen, I knew this album was something special. I remember listening to it over and over the day I got it. Critics everywhere have heaped praise upon it. You the readers overwhelmingly picked this album as the best of the year. Derek and myself agreed that this album was the best. The very first winner of Country Perspective’s Album of the Year award is Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
There were a lot of great country albums throughout 2014 and yet none of them could top Sturgill’s album. I knew this was the album to beat after listening to it. There were a couple I thought were close to Sturgill’s, but they just weren’t quite as great as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. This album established itself as unique and different from the rest with its first song, “Turtles All The Way Down.” I don’t know of another country artist who sings about reptile aliens made of light and Buddah in the same song. This song challenges religions and pushes the boundaries in terms of subject matter in country songs, yet the whole theme of it is love. Really the whole album centers around the concept of love.
The album explores these variety of subjects and goes into a psychedelic journey at times, yet most of the songs on this album sound like something from outlaw days of country music. “Long White Line” and “Life of Sin” in particular cause some listeners to liken Sturgill to Waylon Jennings, a comparison Sturgill is getting tired of hearing about. I don’t hear it and I think Sturgill is simply Sturgill. One of the biggest surprises of the album is Simpson covering When In Rome’s new wave pop song, “The Promise.” Only a talented artist like Simpson could take a cheesy love song like this and make it sound like a moving love ballad.
Of course the most ear-catching moment in this album is at the end, when the song “Just Let Go” begins. It’s a song about letting go of your ego and other bad traits, living life to the fullest. It’s also the prelude to the psychedelic journey of “It Ain’t All Flowers.” This song absolutely pushed the envelope on the traditional sound of country music and really all of the music Simpson has released up to this point. This unique sound is just brilliant. Mainstream country music says they’re pushing the boundaries and evolving country music by including rap and auto-tune in their songs, but that’s bullshit of course. “It Ain’t All Flowers” is a real example of pushing the boundaries of country music and evolving it into a new, unique sound. This is the kind of stuff country music needs.
Over the course of 2014 people slowly, but steadily took notice of Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. The album peaked at #11 on Billboard Hot Country chart, despite no label or radio pushes. As I type this out the album is in the top ten of iTunes country albums chart, right next to Luke Bryan and Eric Church. That’s absolutely insane for an artist that was hardly known at this time last year. Yes he grabbed critics’ attentions and dedicated country music fans’ attentions with his debut album High Top Mountain (also a great album), but he wasn’t getting mainstream media attention. Now he’s done interviews with the likes of New York Times and Grantland. He’s played on Conan, Letterman and The Tonight Show. He went on Joe Rogan’s podcast and gained a lot of new fans. He won the Americana Award for New Artist of the Year. He’s been nominated for a Grammy for Best Americana Album of the Year. All the while just making the music he loves.
2014 was truly the year of Sturgill Simpson. The sky is the limit for him now. But I know all of this recognition doesn’t matter to him. He just wants to do what he loves and provide for his family. That’s pretty damn cool. I think the best thing I heard about Simpson and this album was this quote from Simpson in an interview with American Songwriter:
“The last year, every show all I heard from the fans is ‘Man, I don’t even really like country music, but I love what you guys are doing.’ To me, nothing tells me that we’re achieving our goal more than hearing somebody say that. There’s a lot of people out there who hate country, especially younger people, because they’ve never actually heard what I and many people call country.”
This quote has stuck with me. This quote sums up why Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is not only the best country album of 2014, but one of the best albums across all of music.