It’s no secret that Netflix isn’t keeping around shows as long as they used to. “Fourth and final season” is becoming the weird norm, leading to shorter overall series lengths. So, if the laws of energy work the same for streaming shows — that hours of content can be neither created nor destroyed — where do things go next?
Netflix is still a programming beast, but in addition to series, films, and standup specials, there’s still room for its music-related projects to grow. “Springsteen on Broadway” premiered in the waning weeks of 2018 and Beyonce’s “Homecoming” arrived like a lightning bolt in April. Those marquee partnerships are unmistakable, but last month brought a less categorizable musical offering that deserves some attention, too.
Sturgill Simpson’s “Sound and Fury” is a visual album that’s a departure of sorts, even for an artist whose style has always leaned eclectic. Adding an otherwordly ripple to the heavy guitar riffs lurking throughout Simpson’s discography, the resultant psychedelic rockabilly output gets a hypnotic, 41-minute anime tour through a world of its own devising. Loosely following the exploits of a cyberpunk samurai dead-set on toppling a corporate empire ruled by a Mad Max-style overlord, “Sound and Fury” doesn’t waste a second of its runtime stuffing its frames with a striking set of images put together in a number of animation styles.
With the main story thread written and directed by Jumpei Mizusaki, “Sound and Fury” is one of the best recent arguments in favor of streaming-based freedom. In the same way that the FXX series “Cake” thrives on multiple contributors, a handful of different song segments in “Sound and Fury” feature contributions from other filmmakers. These diverging styles range from an opening where a desert driver is unsuccessfully targeted by a torrent of bombs to a blissfully surreal pop art dance party featuring a number of the story’s warring characters.
Compared with a standard music video format, the songs on “Sound and Fury” aren’t didactic. They work in tandem with the visual elements of the story, but it’s not designed as a perfect overlap. Occasionally, something like the pounding of a blacksmith syncs up with pulsing drumbeats and in one short stretch, the main character mouths along to Simpson’s lyrics. But for the most part, they’re atmospheric complements.
Simpson’s a great choice to pick as the recipient of this kind of Netflix backing. Aside from his songs’ uses in key emotional moments — he might have popped up on a television program called “The Leftovers” that we perhaps have written about once or twice on this site — he’s no stranger to being in front of the camera, either. He was one of the standout parts of last year’s criminally underseen CBS All Access series “One Dollar,” playing Ken “Wal-Mart” Fry, a roving salesman living off pilfered inventory. Even though this new animated project doesn’t feature his likeness, Simpson is slowly amassing an impressive, cross-platform curation of artistic ventures.
Music rights deals can’t be easy in this arena, and a project like this doesn’t come together without the concentrated efforts of a small army of collaborators. (That the credits for this venture stretch nearly the length of Simspon’s seven-minute closing track is proof that animation isn’t produced in a vacuum.) But there’s an unmistakable spirit that weaves its way through “Sound and Fury” that not only exists as a unique addition to a programming library; it holds your attention throughout its booming runtime. As Netflix continues to search for a leg up in the soon-to-bubble-over streaming battles, marriages of music and visuals like this aren’t a bad place to look.
“Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound & Fury” is now available to stream on Netflix.