ty segall

The most crucial part of Ty Segall’s sound is the energy he puts forth. It comes through in almost everything he’s released. Take, for instance, a song like “Sad Fuzz” from Melted (2010) with it’s staticky powerchords descending in halfsteps to Ty’s delightful whine as he belts out “Please don’t be sad, my baby, no / Please don’t be sad, you know you’re mine / Oh yeah, you’re mine…” The lyrics starting with an unassuming, almost innocent air (“Please don’t be sad my baby, no…”) but morphing into something else entirely as Segall inflects the last bit (“Oh yeah, you’re mine…”) with menace. There’s an urgency and fervor to such songs that burst through the speakers and grab you by the collar, leaving you no choice but to pay close attention.

But if you conduct a quick thought-experiment, imagining Segall’s songs stripped of this energy, they seem simple and often not much more than an interesting musical idea – a highly polished demo tape. However. Ty Segall is not in the business of bringing his art to or even near a state of perfection. What, it seems, he is interested in above all, and what the entirety of his aesthetic revolves around, is staying within reach of the moment of inspiration – that atomic reaction occurring somewhere within Segall’s fuzz-fucked mind – for any given song. Just listen to “Where Your Head Goes” (Goodbye Bread, 2011) – one of Ty’s heaviest tunes – with it’s buzzing guitars and drums that drive straight through your skull; a song that doesn’t seem so much composed as poured out.

That being said, there is something you don’t get from the recordings. It’s an odd experience to listen to an album like Slaughterhouse (2012, as Ty Segall Band) when you’re cooking an omelette in the morning: Your still-dreamy mind wanders on stage, and a blaring rendition of “Wave Goodbye” urges you toward the imagined crowd below. Or, say, “Oh Mary” comes on at a party, and you can hardly suppress the impulse to flip over the beer-pong table, knock into everyone holding a drink and bang you head for the next minute and a half. Ty’s music is best listened to, understood, appreciated on the stage.

Ty Segall

I first saw him at the Bowery Ballroom when he was on tour for Goodbye Bread. Having situated myself within arm’s reach of the stage, I was swept up in a tidal mass of heads, limbs and torsos the moment Ty struck the first chord. I thought of being trampled to death. But my death-anxiety soon faded away after I witnessed someone who had slipped on a puddle of beer and was graciously lifted back onto her feet by the crowd. The energy floating beneath the roof of the Bowery Ballroom was not malevolent, as I had fleetingly thought at first, but quite nearly transcendent. The sense of solidarity was almost palpable. That night: I stage-dived for the first time, took a well-made shoe to the head and found someone else’s blood on my shirt. I couldn’t turn my neck more than forty-degrees for the rest of the week, but it was the best $15 I’ve ever spent on a show.

Now that I’ve more than made my point about Ty’s preternatural energy as a crucial component of his art, let’s talk about his new album, Sleeper, which comes out August 20. From the first moments of the first and titular song, we know this will be like nothing he’s put out before. The album opens not with an explosion or crash but a whistle, far-off and haunting. The guitar – acoustic, gentle – fades in, and Segall delivers vocals with a delicacy and precision you hadn’t imagined him capable of. Oh, Sleeper / My Dreamer / I dream a dream for you… Ty’s plaintive voice evokes the sadness of watching a loved-one sleep, knowing that he’ll never gain access inside her head. This sense of profound solitude permeates the entire album, and – it can’t be avoided – is likely the result of Segall personal circumstances surrounding Sleeper. Usually I’m wary of committing intentional fallacies, but, before I sat down to write this article, I had already read the text accompanying NPR’s stream of the record:

Segall wrote the 10 mostly acoustic tracks for Sleeper after losing his father to cancer last year and relocating to Los Angeles to be closer to his younger sister. He’s since had a falling-out with his mother, with whom he says he’s no longer on speaking terms.

So instead of listening to this album as a key to unlocking the secret of what went on between Segall’s and his family, which is irrelevant and nobody’s business, let’s use this bit of biographical information to explain the very different type of energy running through Sleeper. There are those intimations of infinite solitude in the songs, that anyone who’s lost someone dear to them would know, but not without the concomitant sense of resentment at those who are still living, which is here most directly in “She Don’t Care.”

Ty Segall

The eerie, warbling track kicks in with heavy-handed strumming and Ty only hinting at the whine of “Sad Fuzz” as he laments “He packed his bags this morning / He bought his ticket today / Don’t you go away / Not today…” The vocals then reach at falsetto – recalling Lennon’s in “A Day In The Life” – as Ty begins an incantation that serves as the linchpin of this song: “She don’t care / She don’t care about you / She don’t care about / She don’t care about you.” It should be noted that “She Don’t Care,” demonstrates one of Segall’s most fascinating lyrical tricks. Taking a simple phrase (“She don’t care about you…”), he sings the words and sings them again, altering his vocal inflection, and, within the right musical context (in this case, against a chord progression, which almost refuses to be resolved, and over a ghastly violin reminiscent of that in Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee”), the phrase takes on something of the profound. You can hear it at the end of “Alone” (Melted) – “Alone, alone, we are alone… “– and in “Ghost” (Twins, 2012) – “I don’t wanna be a ghost…” In his best songs, Segall can make the prosaic seem poetic.

That’s not to say Sleeper is all sounds of solitude and bitterness, loss and frustration. While in keeping with the album’s dark thematics, “The Man Man,” an acoustic number with an attitude problem, vamps on a real, hard groove – a feat considering there are no drums. Ty sings with the bratty air from which rock-and-roll swaggered into existence “Your man man / He’s gone / He said / Bye bye, baby / So long…” The song erupts when Ty’s acoustic is accompanied by two electric guitars, lead and rhythm, turned-up and distorted, and is carried over the hills and faraway by a solo whose licks are as well-placed and nuanced as anything Clapton or Harrison ever played.

In “The West,” the hopeful note on which Sleeper ends, Ty has his finger on one of the most pervasive and powerful of American images: The wayfarer yearning to return home, but not being sure just were home is. Through a jumpy guitar, which moves between strumming and quick finger-picking in a nod to country blues, Ty sings “Where do I go home / Is it in, is it in / The West…” We get the sense that the narrator is ready to move on after venting his anger and despair for the last half hour. All that needed to be said in Sleeper has been said. “Where do I go home…To my father’s house / Where I can wait / wait around…” We are left with a playful, high-pitched Ooo, where we sit, headphones still ringing the last note, in anticipation of Segall’s next venture.

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