Of all the psych/garage revival acts around today, I would venture to say that Ty Segall is my favorite, not because he necessarily executes his music in a way that is exceptionally scuzzy — though it is plenty filthy — but because Segall is a songwriter that is perpetually inching towards refining his sound and mastering his craft. Other similar acts value the ethos of drunken swagger and brash teenage energy above all, but Segall knows well enough about the subtlety that lies underneath the guttural growl of fuzzboxes and cascading torrents of spring reverb.
2010′s Melted was a good mark of Segall’s talent with melody and chord progression — without sacrificing the need to bash his guitar and vocals into a bleeding pulp. Generally speaking, the album is full of nasty sounds and demented solos, but it’s also just as packed with hooks and sing-along moments and plain old craftsmanship. That latter dimension of the record tends to get drowned out by the crunch of the former, but that’s what the grandma/lizard/clown figure on the front is for — just in case you lost focus on how that thing is going to be hiding under your bed for the rest of your life.
“Imaginary Person” exemplifies speed and look of Melted with the band charging at full steam, chugging itself into a bloodlust seemingly satiated only by slapback delay in Segall’s vocal. The cherry on top of this LSD sundae is the constant double snare hit, which provides just the right amount of drive to get the toes tapping and the hair flying. Still, for all the energy expended in the track, there’s a distinct absence of distortion in the guitar sound, save for a slight snarl underneath the pulsing bassline. There is a clarity and intensity in the sound that looms like the freakish scaly monster on the cover of the album — the imaginary person. And when the bridge hits, the lack of distortion explodes into a clean riff worthy of any magic bus excursion — the kind that turns the world into the colors of rainbow sherbet.
For a less subtle, but just as effective approach, check out the subsequent track on the album, “My Sunshine”, which holds nothing back in its representation of garage grime. Though this number might be louder and messier and a more raw portrait of the cover art, Segall’s songwriter sensibilities are no less present. The stop/start-slash-quiet/loud dynamic is an artform that many current songwriters forget about (it was good enough for the Smashing Pumpkins and Pixies), but Segall uses it with maximum efficiency to leave a jagged edge on an already noisy song.
The first thing you’ll hear about 2011′s Goodbye Bread is that Segall slowed things down a bit, and the first thing you’ll see is the droopy bloodhound on the cover. This is one of those album covers that keeps it unapologetically weird without a hint of explanation, and while Melted‘s cover is arguably just as strange, Goodbye Bread’s makes a point of being strange without being surreal.
For me, that’s the main point of difference between these two records — yes, Segall dialed the fuzzbox down a bit, and yes, there is a song about a couch that goes, “She. Says. She. Wants. To. Buy. A. Couch. / I. Said. Why do we. Have. To. Buy. The. Couch,” but overall it seems less important that Segall has calmed down and more poignant that he’s got a keener edge to his technique. The sound is more refined and its presentation is such that every bit of effort he’s put into them is front and center, with shining guitar lines and timbres that recall 1970s power pop.
The trebly twang of Segall’s guitar on “I Am With You” was what stood out to me first, sounding like either a 12-string or dobro — both of which I would have never expected from a Ty Segall record. Regardless, the track builds slowly using a simple sung melody until the rest of the band kicks in and Segall starts getting into the meat of the lyrics. Sick of this, sick of that, Segall rants about everything left and right while the pace keeps building. Things get a little heavier after about 1:30, when the track transforms into a shaggy-haired sing-along, and it continues this way until about 2:30 when the structure changes yet again and starts to speed up at a harrowing pace. In Melted, this is when the band would hand control of the song over to the waves of feedback, but just when it seems like the Segall of Melted is about make a comeback, he throws in yet another shift, stopping and started again with a slow motion solo that tears across the speakers with a drippy crunch.
Melted is about losing control to the rock gods at the altar of fuzz — being driven into fits and seizures in the presence of its almighty power and ending up like lizard-face. But if there’s anything “I Am With You” and its neighboring tracks have to say, it’s that Goodbye Bread is about channeling that energy into a focused point. About losing control — but in a controlled environment. You’ll never look at bloodhounds in the same way again.
Artist: Ty Segall
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)
Album: Goodbye Bread
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)