January was a heavy month for music. Not since the nineties have the biggest records of a period been as low-down and filthy as the likes of Blackstar and The Savages’ second LP Adore Life. While the thick instrumentation deployed on Bowie’s final LP had a jazz intonation though, and The Savages delivered Ian Curtis-flavoured post-punk, Ty Segall enacts his first transformation of 2016 into a playful, but heavy-handed, garage rocker on the excellent Emotional Mugger.
At this point, it seems certain that twenty eight year old Segall will explode any time soon. Having released his self-titled debut in 2008 – he’s since put out at least one album yearly, and has not just evolved, but completely changed on every one. His first couple of records worked in a lo-fi, garage rock realm, but on 2010’s Melted he dabbled in the land of psychedelia, and Goodbye Beard saw him more folk orientated and melodic. 2012 really saw him emerge as a formidable force though: putting out three records in the year, including the marvellous Beatles-esque Hair with White Fence. Having since dabbled in psych-folk and glam rock too, in 2016 he’s now supported by new band ‘The Muggers’, and his latest release sees the fuzz and overdrive at new levels. The results are a riot.
What really stands out about this record is the mixing. Not since Iggy Pop’s remaster of his 1973 record Raw Power have guitars sounded this trapped, or has layer been so laid upon layer until instruments sound like they’re ready to tear apart at the seams. Songs that could have been written as agile rockers are taut, lumbering giants here: Joy Division-drums punching in the rear of the mix and occasionally erupting into a flurry of cymbal-play. This unholy trinity really come together on the likes of ‘Emotional Mugger/Lion Priestess’ where on the second half of the song finger-picking is crushed until it sounds like little more than furious Morse code, while heavier guitar is piled on in lashings over the top.
What sets Segall apart from his aforementioned peers however is the levity of tone to his music. Despite the genuinely sinister title and album art, the whimsical sneer with which Ty delivers his lyrics sets him apart from the existentialism of Savages and the sheer rage of The Stooges. The arrangement of the music too is playful; ‘Californian Hills’ is spotted with little 8-bit tangents – which prelude a thrilling and intense resolution as the speed of the playing is ratcheted up time and time again until it feels like your earbuds are going to explode. I suspect it may have been done in the mix: but if recorded live in the studio then Segall is displaying dexterity unlike anything in his discography so far. Things really fall apart in glorious style on ‘W.U.O.T.W.S’ though: a jumbled scrapbook of a song featuring reprises of hooks from prior tracks and general sound-collage fuckery (and ending actually in a rather pretty piece of acoustic guitar). For an album that starts in a tailspin, it seems a natural resolution.
“The whimsical sneer with which Ty delivers his lyrics sets him apart from the sheer rage of The Stooges”
The playing on this record is also top-notch. The nimble guitar at the rear end of opener ‘Squealer’ doesn’t sound a million miles away from something James Williamson would have let rip in the seventies: packing tight little melodies below a thick and gloopy lead. The standout tracks come in a double punch though, with ‘Breakfast Edge’ sporting a killer riff, and ‘Diversion’ being the most furious of the bunch: punching through an already fiery track list. The senseless “bring my love back to you now na na!” reminding of an old Busted track and sticking in the brain like glue.
If there’s a downside to the record then it’s Segall’s delivery. Such a whimsical tone amongst such an onslaught of compression is an entertaining touch, but less restrained performance feels necessary in places – and the best spots are where he affects a punk-rock growl. The lyrics also, while hard to even distinguish a lot of the time, are pretty standard garage-rock fair when you can. That being said though: when the song-writing and production are as good as on this record, you’d be rather missing the point to linger on those facets of the music. If Segall continues to evolve and proliferate in these thrilling and diverse directions then it seems likely that more and more will start to see him as something of a star.
Liam Inscoe – Jones
Liam is currently listening to ‘Pursuance’ by John Coltrane