Ty Segall is pretty needs-no-introduction in music journalism at this point. For about a decade, he’s been releasing music at a rapid pace and touring incessantly—he’s the guy who won’t go away right now and “right now” is lasting a lot longer than usual. Last year’s, Emotional Mugger was a scuzzy fuzz-punk record that showcased some killer production tactics and biting songwriting. Before that, he’s mostly jammed out in a garage rock setting, but also touched upon folky, acoustic ensembles. Whether or not any of his efforts will truly be considered vital in the coming decades is to be determined, but his latest self-titled record shows no signs of slowing down and perhaps even a bit of potential for a more comprehensive work in the future.
Sonically, this as punch-to-the-gut, straight-ahead rock record as it gets. There’s the Black Sabbath scare tactics, the endless blue scale numbers, and the chugging acoustic guitar slow songs (that also somehow end up in a rousing jam session). “Break a Guitar” sounds exactly how one would probably imagine it to. It thrives on a dense riff with Segall spitting a simple, yet effective melody over the top. “Freedom” changes up the groove quite a bit, with some light-touch delivery from drums and acoustic guitar. Dripping, distortion driven guitar solos fill the space between Segall’s vocal phrases—of course—but there’s still a general sense of contrast from the first track.
“Warm Hands” continues with a collage of about 15 different rock sounds. We open in space with twangy, chromatic tonalities, then jump into pummeling horror, before Segall goes full Ozzy. The mid-section of this track is a bit questionable. It feels like Segall flips a light switch and enters a chill rock space for a couple minutes then flips back to the song’s original state without offering anything of substance melodically. It’s nice that he tries on a new sound for size to interrupt the dense instrumentals of the beginning of the record, but this method doesn’t seem to work all that well. “Talkin” is a much more successful example of chill Segall. The melodies laid way back, with a country-blues bass line and some “oohs” and “ahhs” for backing vocals. Then, the record returns to form yet again with some massive distorted guitars and double fisted guitar soloing panned right and left. The first half of the record is imperfect, but it’s certainly not entirely one dimensional.
Luckily, two more “Talkin” level chill-Segall hits come to surface on the second half of the record. “Orange Color Queen” begins with a slightly nasally, slow folk intro, then jumps into a really fun chorus with a blissfully simple guitar interlude. To finish things off, Segall delivers what might be the best chorus on record and a worthy final guitar solo. There’s some mature instrumental work on here, but Segall’s personality still shines throughout. This is what a Segall record should sound like in 2017.
The lyrics feel like they want to do more than they are. There’s sketches of narrative and parallels between tracks, but Segall doesn’t seem to completely tie them together in the end. In, “The Only One,” for instance, Segall begins with “I want you to wake up/I want you to see/This time I’ve gone, gone, gone, gone away,” then on “Orange Color Queen” he switches roles with “Wake me up before you go/To the other side of the world.” Beyond the first verse, however, the tunes don’t really connect a whole lot. “Orange Color Queen” is a quirky love tune with the brilliantly obscure lyric “you’re a tree inside an airplane” and “The Only One” lacks a real focus with the first verse being a scathing message to a significant other and the chorus about how self-hate can come from isolation. It’s worth it to mention that the track before “The Only One” is about projecting one’s self-hate onto other people, so with that in mind these two tracks could be depicting a flawed, one-sided relationship, but there’s not enough in the other tracks to create a whole narrative around this topic.
We see a similar situation between the “Freedom” tracks and “Thank You Mr. K.” “Freedom” showcases a bit of esoteric ramblings where the association between breathing and freedom is made. Then on “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned),” we’re introduced to another character who initially seems to be helpful, but eventually Segall realizes he’s not looking into his best interest and has to break free: “I wasted life wondering why/I was working for you/Now I see clear and have no fear/I know what I must do.” The track ends with the chorus from “Freedom,” so there’s a sense that he’s broken free from the other character.
I would assume that Segall is talking about corporate people/record label big wigs, but that doesn’t become outwardly apparent until “Thank You Mr. K” where Segall spouts “Murder, doctor/Politician is a cow/Bleeding in my pocket now.” This track expands on the line “Come here, let me take you home…My car can run” from “Warm Hands” with a wild rock tune about taking the keys from your master and showing him who’s boss. Again, I feel like these tracks are connected well and present something of an anecdote, but there’s not enough on the rest of the album to realize the full potential.
Ty Segall is a fun record to listen to. It’s instrumentals and vocal delivery are compiled well and there’s a great variety of rock sounds. I only wish that the lyrics were a bit more focused and followed a stricter narrative. Segall clearly has a knack for contriving themes and lyrical motives, but at this point in his career, I feel like he should be thinking more broadly and delivering his defining work.