Traditionally, the mid-career eponymous album release is spun one of two ways – restatement or reinvention. In the first case, the artist looks to cast off the highfalutin concepts and dodgy stylistic experiments of their past and embrace a (ugh) ‘back-to-basics’ approach – think Pearl Jam or Killing Joke. In the second, the opposite is intended – to make a statement of musical change, like Blur’s sharp turn into Pavement-esque indie rock and The Velvet Underground’s exchanging of avant-garde for dreamy folk.
It is less clear where the new LP by indie mainstay Ty Segall fits into this framework. His 14th release in 10 years, Segall functions as somewhat of a sampler of his vast catalogue, incorporating playful psych-pop, fuzzy glam and pummelling garage into an attractively digestible half-hour package. There’s even a 10-minute epic in the form of album centrepiece ‘Warm Hands/Freedom Returned’, segueing through several distinct movements varying from Sabbath sludge to loose jazz-rock. It’s the most ambitious track Segall’s ever done and works wonderfully, aided by Steve Albini’s characteristically uncluttered production.
An enormous slab of retro energy
Though much of his career has been spent in lo-fi, the success of this shift to a clearer sound, less forgiving of lazy songwriting is testament to Segall’s grasp of the fundamentals. Indeed, if there’s anything consistent about Ty Segall, it’s the solid melodies and hooks on almost every track – opener ‘Break A Guitar’ is pure Marc Bolan worship, with Segall straddling a meaty guitar riff with tight harmonies and a typically bratty lead vocal. Shamelessly derivative – absolutely, but who cares when it’s this much fun? ‘Freedom’ begins sounding rather unfortunately like a Kasabian B-side but redeems itself with lush harmonies and a killer chorus, while the tender ‘Orange Color Queen’ sees Segall doing his best Ray Davies impression over lilting acoustic rhythms. If there are major‑flaws, they are of context and comparison. Given his rapid rate of recording and release, for all its strengths the album risks being just another entry in an already huge discography that musically doesn’t break new ground for Segall. The lack of a true stylistic focus is both a strength and a drawback – it provides welcome variety, but this lack of commitment to a single theme also means that there are better, more focused examples of Segall’s tender acoustic ballads (Sleeper) and psychotic noise throwdowns (Slaughterhouse) to be found in his back catalogue.
it makes one wonder what could be
The second issue is one of ambition – it is clear how talented a songwriter and frontman he is. However, it also makes one wonder what could be – if he spent years rather than weeks writing and recording his next release; if he made more of an effort to look forward rather than to the past for inspiration; if he decided to be more than just the brilliant student coasting along on a 2:1. Until that question is answered, Ty Segall remains an enormously enjoyable slab of retro energy, and a great starting point for anyone looking for an entry into a unique, ever-expanding musical legacy.