On a trip to the Outer Banks weekend before last, Mrs. YHT and I managed to HBO Go our way through the entire first season of True Detective. Have you seen it? Parts are hard to stomach, but overall it’s pretty damn fantastic, thanks in no small part to Matthew McConaughey’s character — a brilliant-but-damaged fish-out-of-water detective nicknamed “Rust” with a penchant for philosophical self-torture and a belief that “human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.” He’s part deep South and part deep end, somehow managing to feel authentically in the dirt and in the clouds at the same time. I can’t remember a character like him, nor can I imagine a better spirit animal for the album I became enamored with a few days after Mrs. YHT and I got back from the beach.
This is the first I’ve heard of Sturgill Simpson, and I might not have taken notice had it not been for NPR’s First Listen and the album’s name (which I love): Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Ray Charles’ classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is one of the more frequently spun records at YHT headquarters, and Simpson’s twist was intriguing: Country music about country music. Now, I didn’t grow up listening to country, and the listening I’ve done in recent years hasn’t been comprehensive enough to chase away the feeling that there are allusions and in-jokes lurking in these 10 tracks that I’m not wise to — details that would lend additional credence to the “meta” piece of the title. The genre-bending aspects of the album — nuggets of psychedelia like fuzz, drug references, heavy reverb and panning sounds so they travel from your left headphone to your right and back again — feel plenty meta though, showing a desire to poke holes in the membrane that separates country from other styles. That said, there’s a meta moment that hits even closer to home for me, and while it comes and goes quickly, it shows how one tiny detail can open a whole other set of considerations, like a wormhole leading to another universe.