MR|Review – Sturgill Simpson, “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth”

Sturgill Simpson’s appearance on Mark Maron’s WTF podcast this week (listen soon; it will go behind a paywall in a week or two I think) reminded me just how much there is to unpack from his new record A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.

A Sailor's Guide To Earth

It’s a wonderful left turn of a record, released when fans and critics would have welcomed a Metamodern Sounds pt. II.  Self-produced, it sounds clear, warm, and open, the Dap-Kings’ soulful horns swirling chocolate-and-peanut-butter-like with Simpson’s brand of slacker psychadelic outlaw country.

Sturgill’s been open about A Sailor’s Guide… being a song cycle written for his family, especially his first child who was born just as his career took off.  What he hasn’t said – and there’s a tantalizing hint in the Maron interview about this – is just how deep the concept goes.  I think the album is sequenced chronologically beginning with a father singing a song to his newborn son and continuing as the son grows up, maybe having a child of his own.

  1. “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” is sung to a newborn
  2. “Breakers Roar” comforts a young child
  3. “Keep it Between the Lines” offers advice to a teen
  4. “Sea Stories” finds a father and his young adult child developing a more mature relationship
  5. “In Bloom” (Nirvana cover)
  6. “Brace for Impact (Live a Little”) reminds a thirty-something child that life can be short, and it should be fun
  7. “All Around You” illustrates a deep connection, only able to be seen through long experience, with a child who is now old enough to have felt real pain
  8. “Oh Sarah” shifts the spotlight to the steady partner whose presence has been felt, but not addressed directly, throughout the record
  9. “Call To Arms” – The old man’s got nothing to lose and speaks his mind (not that he hasn’t always), turning from his family outward toward the world

“In Bloom” is the outlier here, thematically and musically.  As it sits in the center of the sequence it strikes me as meaningful, though I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.  It’s, for me, the weak point on the record musically as Simpson drops half of the chord sequence from the verse, rendering the tension of the original toothless.

Maybe changing Nirvana’s rager into a lullaby illustrates a father nostalgic for his younger child while simultaneously recognizing the adult he’s become.  Or maybe I’m reaching.  But the rest of the album makes so much sense – six songs of a child growing up, followed by two turning progressively outward to others – I need a way to understand the intent here.

Simpson can obviously write incisive, vivid lyrics when he wants to.  That this record also features some fairly worn cliches struck me as odd at first, though they’re wearing alright with time.  Sometimes the language of love and family is what’s comfortable and familiar, said a thousand times and no less true for it.

MR|Review directs readers’ limited attention among works via ratings, and within works via prose, focusing on works where our opinion diverges from critical or popular consensus, or we have significant insight that compliments or challenges readers’ aesthetic experience. MR|Review totals to date:
Must-hear! 2
Recommended 13
Good 10
Fans only 10
Skip this 3
Owww! My ears! 0

Why “Ventura?”

In the back of the blog topic file I found a question from Jill; why is Ventura called “Ventura,” and is it because of Cory?

It is, but I don’t remember why exactly.

The collection of songs was gathered together under the name “Ventura” prior to my one visit there with him in 2006, almost certainly prior to even planning that trip.

At some point early on the east-to-west movement that connected those first few songs became apparent.  With the Pacific as the end point of this twenty-something punk symphony to leaving home and growing up, Ventura could stand in for a more mythic place of serenity.  It’s a milestone from which to look back on the journey so far, and prepare for the one ahead.

Plus, it’s a cool-sounding, lesser-known California town.  I certainly wouldn’t have known its name without knowing Cory.

Ventura, California’s relationship to Ventura is more concrete than Dodge City Kansas’ is to You Have To Wear The Boots’ Dodge, but there’s a symbolic similarity too.

Falcon Drive #1 Enclosure

Made this yesterday to house the first Falcon Drive.

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I have an idea how to improve the =F= design a bit, but this is pretty much the idea.  This will be the demo unit and ultimately go on my board, unless someone has a hankering for serial #0001.

Dark Satellites ‘Be Still’ Vinyl Pre-Order

Dark Satellites’ Be Still vinyl is available for pre-order on Bandcamp (click “Buy” below) (you can stream the whole thing, too).

Drew has made an incredibly good record. It’s catchier, it’s heavier, and it’s synth-ier than 2012 Are Here.

If it matters to you, I played drums on “Strange Song,” bass on “Just Dropped Out,” and mastered the album. This is the first thing I’ve ever contributed to that’s been pressed to wax!

The vinyl is a cool gray and taupe splatter to match the cover art, and we should receive it in June. $25 shipped to the lower 48. Drew will break even when every record is sold, basically; we will not profit on this. It is the definition of a labor of love.

Falcon Drive Design Complete

This morning I finished the design for a new pedal, the Falcon Drive.  I’ll be taking reservations for a small run of them soon.

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There it is on the breadboard. Doesn’t look like much, maybe, but it’ll do a nice JFET mostly-clean boost (slight compression, fatness, & edge on the pick attack; nice!), an asymmetric MOSFET/LED overdrive, and a scuzzy Schottky diode drive.

The finished enclosures will be laid out like this, with Kingman-style stamping and finishing. The second footswitch, LED, and colored knob are for a second gain/saturation preset.

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True bypass, quiet switching, extremely high (10M) input impedance and low (3.3K) output impedance are featured to preserve treble and drive long cables. The Falcon has a huge range of useable gain; I love it for everything from always-on unity gain buffer to dimed out.

Video coming soon-ish. Before the reservations are closed, for sure, so you can decide if you (or the guitarist in your life) need one!

Upcoming Dark Satellites & Mars Lights Shows

2016 April 9, Saturday – Dark Satellites at Minibar, Kansas City MO, with Fullbloods and Noah Davis.  9 PM, 21+, $5

2016 April 30, Saturday – Mars Lights at The All Star Rock Bar, Kansas City MO, with Small Waves and The Oldfield Victory.  9 PM show.

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2016 May 9, Monday – Mars Lights at The Riot Room, Kansas City MO, with MUST BE THE HOLY GHOST, Redder Moon, and Via Luna. We play at 8:30 sharp! 7 PM doors, 21+, $8

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2016 July 16, Saturday – Mars Lights at Records With Merritt, Kansas City MO, with Red Cities and Bogusman

Mars Lights & Dark Satellites Shows

2016 February 26, Friday – Mars Lights at the Replay Lounge, Lawrence KS, with Red Cities and Hyperbor.  6 PM, all ages, ?$

2016 March 4, Friday – Dark Satellites at Frank’s North Star Tavern, Lawrence KS, with Braingea and Ask An Adult. ? PM, ? ages, ?$

2016 April 30, Saturday – Mars Lights at The All Star Rock Bar, Kansas City MO, with TBA

Booking: marslightsnoise (at) gmail (dot) com