Segall's School of Rock
by Jericho Cerrona
On his 2017 self-titled release, Southern California singer-songwriter Ty Segall seemed to be in a caring and sharing mood; alternating between Marc Bolan-esque glam, Beatles-imbued balladry, and worship of all things The Kinks. It wasn't a surprise to anyone paying attention to his trajectory, coming off like a natural extension of a decade-long pursuit for channeling 60s/70s style into an accessible rock n'roll package. The abrasiveness of 2016's Emotional Mugger was gone; replaced by the vision of a tireless musician nearing the age of 30 who had perhaps tried out every pose he could think of. It was more or less a sonic survey, and predictably, an entry point for all things Segall up until that point.
His latest record, Freedom's Goblin, also won't shock anyone attuned to the man's knack for wearing influences proudly, but there's also more ambition here, not to mention a newfound attraction to sprawl, that makes this perhaps his boldest release yet. Recorded over a lengthy period between five studios and the help of returning producer extraordinaire Steve Albini, Freedom's Goblin is a grab bag of post-punk, disco, funk, sludge metal, Jagger-esque rock stomp, Beatles-adjacent balladry, and everything Marc Bolan. Expected, yes, but also sublime.
Threatening self-indulgent bloat, Freedom's Goblin stays the course by never allowing the running time--19 tracks, around 75 minutes--to get in the way of earworm melodies and controlled songwriting. Tunes like opener "Fanny Dog" about his beloved pet, rollick along with self-deprecating lyrics and boisterous horns, and a reworking of Hot Chocolate’s 1978 single “Every 1’s A Winner” keeps the funky rhythm, but adds more fuzzy guitars. Elsewhere, there's nice variation to the usual Ty template, such as the sleazy glam-disco of "Despoiler Cadaver" and the squealing jazz freak-out, "Talkin 3", which sees Segall adopting a hoarse falsetto that feels like it might break apart at any moment.
Freedom's Goblin is really about being at a place in your life where contentment and excess aren't mutually exclusive. Recently married (check out the blistering punk anthem "Meaning" with wife Denee on lead vocals), Segall seems to be relishing the chance to jam in studio with a revolving cast of talented musicians without the need to indulge in sloppy rock decadence. It's a tricky balance; loud, bombastic dirges mixed with plaintive balladry, but Segall manages to pull it off.
For every barn-burner, like the Black Sabbath-inspired "She", there are a handful of gentle acoustic numbers ("Cry, Cry, Cry", "I'm Free", "My Lady's on Fire") which not only conjure The Beatles, but more surprisingly, Neil Young and Wilco. As a kitchen sink double-album where no genre is off the table, the listening experience really should be unwieldy, but the amount of pop hooks rising from every guitar solo and skronking saxophone means that there's a little something here for everyone. Of course, such an assortment of disparate elements might feel messy from the standpoint of conceptual consistency, but it's hard to argue that, from song to song, Freedom's Goblin emerges as the most unqualified version of Segall's school of rock to date.