Music Reviews

Ty Segall Manipulator

(Drag City) Rating - 9/10

Last week, I listened to Ty Segall discuss his musical epiphanies to Marc Maron during an episode of the WTF podcast.  In it, he mentioned some classic rock standbys and then described what has over time become a fairly common eureka amongst musicians born after 1977, which is that introduction and subsequent immersion into punk rock music.  It’s usually at this point when all that’s come to be understood becomes irrelevant, and the immediate dismantling of classic rock and/or pop paradigms be administered.  For most, it’s a liberating and profound process.

Segall, though, being more of a lo-fi psych rocker, continues to hold onto the colorful, acid-soaked disposition of the 1960s despite some fascination with distortion-induced anti-clarity.  Granted, much of what you’ll hear on Manipulator, which is Segall’s ninetieth release from one of the thousands of bands he’s helmed over his three months in circulation (and, yes, that’s a joke), pulls from the proto-punk seeds sown by The Count Five, ? & the Mysterians, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and The Stooges.  It’s evident that Segall knows how to nurture and harvest those points of reference into something distinctly his and, despite his significant productivity, the well has yet to run dry.  This is one very remarkable aspect of Segall, that he’s releasing albums at a rapid pace that are consistently good.  Quality vs. quantity hasn’t become an issue with his work yet, though Manipulator , his newest album, apparently represents a period of refinement in Segall’s expanding discography. 

Since The Velvet Underground’s seminal first release, you can make the argument that much of what we’ve come to understand in terms of music has over the last almost fifty years been in direct contention with the Woodstock generation.  From the Velvets’ aversion to white-appropriated blues rock to The Replacements' repurposing of the iconic record title Let It Be, it’s only been over the last ten or so years that “alternative” or “indie” rock music’s been willing to completely embrace the era, utilizing the fundamentals of Lenny Kaye’s curated Nuggets comp, for example, while incorporating elements of modernity.  The relatively chipper organ chord that introduces Manipulator’s title track could very well have taken residence in Kaye’s collection, though perhaps the song itself couldn’t.  Inasmuch as I find pacifying listeners with nostalgic retreads to be a cop out, (which is why I remain on the fence about White Fence… pun intended), Segall doesn’t figuratively plunge his finger down his throat for the sake of regurgitating all that he’s ingested, relying simply upon the charming reshaping of music from ages ago.  In fact, Segall seems to have helped renew the sonic promises bestowed upon us by The Strokes’ Is This It or The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells, his psych-laden output as pop informed as it is fringe worthy.  While I doubt he’ll be awarded the same accolades as Casablancas or White, at the very least he’s earned himself a reputation as an engaging figure in rock n’ roll that’s delivered a solid body of work.    

And, of course, Manipulator is no exception.  You need not listen too far past The Clock to understand what a fascinating songwriter Segall is, chamber-inflected guitar noodling and string arrangements incorporated well into a high-tempo rock song.  That refinement in song craft is especially evident here as with the lush string work in The Singer, which inadvertently offers a high fidelity alternative to Phil Spector’s pop song haze. 

Following last year’s acoustic-based Sleeper, Segall’s newest release is an ambitious 17 tracks, all of which combine 60s pop sensibilities with contemporary psych flavors and dissonant embellishments.  Although Manipulator does exude a certain level of polish, there’s a sugary aggression to songs like It’s Over, Feel or The Faker, the latter being more of a Blues Magoos fuzz track.  I wouldn’t say that Manipulator features songs as amplified or muddy as the Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse LP, (though The Crawler comes close), but its meticulous construction adds so much body overall.  The sturdy acoustic vs. electric sway of Tall Man Skinny Lady, the piano keys subtly enhancing the melody in Green Belly and even the grating guitar solos that disrupt the sleek low end in The Connection Man offer considerable depth for the ears to distill.  The same can be said for the electric folk of The Hand, a gorgeous plucked intro preceding a pronounced acoustic strum.  The bass throb and six-string licks driving Who’s Producing You? seem adapted from Thee Oh Sees to some degree. 

While the technicolor pop licks and acoustic breaks comprise the bulk of Segall’s work here, more modern and abstract tracks like Mister Main, his melodic falsetto owing something to Queens of the Stone Age, and alt-crunchers like the chaptered Susie Thumb and Don’t You Want to Know (Sue) also settle nicely within the album’s sequencing.  A rather sinister tone accents The Feels, charred blasts of guitar sound filling any available space.  It’s a nice little sludge track.

The album ends with Stick Around, which features some nice harmonizing between guitar and strings, delicate flutters of tone animating its otherwise ballad-centric persona.  As Manipulator stands as Segall’s most intricately woven and patiently developed work, its success as a whole may inspire him to devote more time to fewer projects.  But, as he told Maron in that interview I mentioned earlier when asked about his prolificacy, Segall responded, “I’m just bored, man.” 

Stay bored, Ty.  Stay bored.