Taking retro revivalism for a ride
by Jericho Cerrona
As of this writing, Ty Segall isn't even 30 years old, and yet he's already amassed a staggering catalog in the lo-fi garage rock scene which also birthed the likes of Thee Oh See's John Dwyer and Tim Cohen of The Fresh and Onlys. Along with side projects, collaborations, various EPs, and even a T. Rex covers album, Segall has taken the "more is better" Robert Pollard approach to songwriting, and has consequently been both praised and dismissed for such productivity. Obviously, being young and reckless has a lot to do with it, but Segall is seemingly on a mission to carry the 60s-influenced psych garage rock mantel for a whole new generation. On his latest self-titled release (his only previous self-titled came out in 2008), he compounds all of his obvious influences and past work into one cohesive vision.
Ty Segall feels like a collision of the classic rock of 2014's Manipulator and the glam punk balladry of 2012's Twins. There's little in the way of last year's brilliantly abrasive Emotional Mugger, a record which took the fuzzy psych to extremes by burying everything in muddy reverb and demonic vocals. Instead, Segall feels much more open to sharing and caring throughout his new effort; alternating between Bolan-esque glam, Beatles-cribbed balladry, and Kinks worship, among other things. Part of the problem with Segall's aesthetic has always been a tendency to wear his influences a bit too heavily, leading to a certain kind of sameness from album to album. However, if he's taking a cue from 60s artists which he undoubtably loves, then this near constant stream of content is not only understandable but necessary.
Things kick off right away with "Break a Guitar", a crunchy ripper which isn't so much a primer for the remaining 10 tracks, but a statement of back-to-basics purpose. For Segall, raiding the late 60s/early 70s sonic closet is more of a loving patchwork for the kind of rock' n roll that doesn't exist anymore than an empty gesture toward nostalgia. There's heavy metal-sounding sludge ("The Only One") which recalls not only Black Sabbath but The Beatles in "Helter Skelter" mode, Syd Barrett-inspired folk ("Orange Color Queen"), and some pummeling Ramones-esque punk ("Thank you Mr. K). Segall masters all of these various mode effortlessly, but the real triumph is nearly 10-minute epic "Warm hands (Freedom Returned)", a monstrous combination of deranged vocals, squealing guitar solos, and noodling instrumental breaks which reveals Segall as a more ambitious songwriter than one might expect.
Not to be undersold is the fact that Segall is also working with a full band this time out; as regulars Charles Moothart (drums), Mikal Cronin (bass), and Emmett Kelly (guitar) are joined by newcomer Ben Boye on keys. Boye's contributions are especially noteworthy throughout; with jagged piano motifs providing a brief respite from the sounds of crunchy distortion and intertwining guitar leads. In his early days, Segall would play all of the instruments and self-record, but this time out he has legendary producer Steve Albini handling the recording and mixing duties. The iconic mastermind ditches the more low-end muddiness of earlier recordings (aside from the pop sheen of Manipulator) and embraces mid-fi production without losing the fuzz. Therefore, the more ballad-heavy songs, like "Orange Color Queen" and "Talkin" pop with texture, while standard garage punk numbers ("Break a Guitar, "Take Care To Comb Your Hair", "Thank You Mr. K.") crackle with grit and clarity.
As a comprehensive survey of his musical preoccupations over the past decade, Ty Segall is a nifty entry point to all things Ty Segall. As a further indication of where another decade will take him, however, it's slightly more uncertain. Either way, you can put money on the fact that his signature guitar solos will keep zig-zagging and wailing on into the night. Long live rock n'roll. Just make sure to comb that long hair, man.