I can’t help it. But 16 years of anime had made me extremely susceptible to the medium. Any time there’s a news item about anime or Hollywood trots out its latest attempt to mainstream a manga, my head turns. And its look is unmistakable for my eyes to go all radar. Netflix has dozens of anime series and movies—at last count, they had four of mine. But as I was scrolling through the ribbon with the squares of images representing the various shows and movies, I saw Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury, and I stopped. I knew Simpson was some kind of alt country critics’ darling, but that was the extent of my Simpson knowledge. So it struck me as very strange that this guy would have produced an anime movie to accompany his latest album.
Turns out the music was a departure for Simpson. Sound & Fury would be a dirty, scuzzy rock record and Simpson thought the new musical direction should have some appropriate visuals. So: anime. I cued it up and the music was more Southern blues and rock than is my preference, but the anime story kept me interested. The film is a series of vignettes, but the overarching storyline is about a masked samurai warrior tearing through a post nuclear landscape in a muscle car. SPOILER ALERT: when the mask comes off, it is revealed the warrior is a woman.
Soon her adventure leads her to a road war with the baddies and the music turns from fuzzy distortion guitar crunch to synth-beat, funky danceable disco complete with buzzer sirens, telegraph keyboards, and piercing licks. The video features our samurai heroine fronting a line dance of muscle men in hoods, women bodybuilders in bikinis, pasty-sporting geishas, and the two bad guys, a skinny, skeevy guy in a business suit and a Jabba-bodied kingpin. And they all dance their asses off. The choreography is fantastic and the video flashes color, strobing like mad, managing to be both foot-stomping and sexy and funny all at the same time.
Simpson’s southern drawl yelps and calls, bouncing and skating along with the syncopated rhythm. His voice makes you want to sing along while the music practically begs you to get on the dance floor and try your damnedest to work the animated choreography line dance, which is top-notch. The song itself is Simpson at his typical rebellious bent, only this time the lyrics aren’t set to a crooning country tune, but something that wouldn’t be out of line in the Earth, Wind & Fire catalogue.
Well now everybody’s worried ‘bout a good look
But they need to be worried ‘bout a good hook
Attacking record companies’ adoration of the facile at the expense of real meat and guts artistry isn’t the only subject of his ire. Simpson also turns the critical mirror back at himself, the push/pull of fame and all the troubles that come with it. As Chrissie Hynde sang, “How much did you get for your soul?”
Why you gettin’ pissed ‘cause we’re getting discovered
Are you talking all this shit just to get on the cover
Simpson famously rebelled against every label the label or critics gave him. One of those labels being rebel country. So it’s fitting that Simpson’s next move would be to produce a blazing, guitar god rock album instead of the alt country croonings that made him famous. But he knows the risks.
Well now, how you gonna eat when you’re biting the hand
Well you know they don’t like it when you take a stand
Musically, the song speaks out of both sides of its mouth: dark and bright, the booty-shaking and the roof-raising, elation and destruction. It’s as colorful as the multi-hued spotlights of the club. I have the song forever cued up on Netflix. I watch/dance/listen to the track often, then rewind it back to its beginning so it’s ready for the next time I need a little disco pick-me-up.
Simpson wanted to capture the feeling he and his band got when they played live, when they went back to their hotel room and just jammed. “A Good Look” is like most of the songs on Sound & Fury. It sounds like guys getting away with something. Stealing a little bit of hip-hop here, taking some house there. Then showing off what they’re going to do with what they pilfered. “A Good Look” is like the muscle car the samurai chick drives. It’s fast, it’s mean, and it’s not meant to sit in the driveway. It wants to move. So will you.