Ty Segall’s latest album, and his second eponymous solo album, is pure, unrestrained fuzzy joy from start to close. I have to confess, although I knew who he was I have, until now, avoided all of Segall’s albums. I don’t know what I was expecting to find, but it wasn’t this. Falling in love with Ty Segall on his tenth solo album is actually a great place to be. It’s like discovering a TV series that you’ve really been looking forward to has just been released in its entirety, providing the opportunity to close the curtains, lock the doors, pull up the duvet and binge for an entire weekend. That’s my plan for the weekend anyway, except instead of Daredevil Season 3 (or whatever) it will be Ty Segall’s solo albums, side-projects and collaborations that I’ll be working my way through.
So what is it about Ty Segall’s Ty Segall that’s drawn me in so completely? For the first time on this album Segall has worked with a live band and notorious producer Steve Albini. Stepping away from the self-produced, over-dubbed multi-instrumentalism of his earlier work, this album captures the sound of a group of accomplished musicians playing together in a room with as much volume as they can collectively produce. It’s the best sound in the world. Certainly Albini, and right now Segall, would agree with me on that statement. Albini has become a legend for his uncompromising approach to recording: it’s always raw and it’s totally real – not something you can boast about many producers working today. He’s famous for recording Nirvana’s brutally honest record In Utero, but that is merely the tip of a very large iceberg. Albini sees himself more as an engineer than producer, seeing producers as generally a bit of a blight on the recording industry. As the engineer he places the right microphones in the right places and gets the band to play their hearts out. It’s not for everyone, it can be very exposing but Ty Segall, with a band made up of frequent collaborators Emmett Kelly, Mikal Cronin, Charles Moothart and Ben Boye, thrives in this environment.
What’s evident from this album is the large influence of British music on Segall. On more than one occasion I am struck by how much his vocal sounds like John Lennon, never more so than on ‘The Only One’, which has Lennon-esque melodies and a double-tracked vocal technique that the man himself would have been proud of. There’s also plenty of Kinks in there too and early T. Rex. As someone who doesn’t know Marc Bolan’s back catalogue so well I tend to hear this as Gaz Coombes/Supergrass moments, but Segall’s Ty Rex EP of T. Rex cover versions, released in 2015, is a clear sign that Segall goes to that early source of glam and fuzz for his undiluted dose.
The album opens with a right belter: ‘Break A Guitar’, full of densely fuzzy garage rock guitars, as you might expect, duelling histrionic solos that are unexpectedly elaborate – since when did wailing guitar become cool again? I’ve been waiting. ‘Freedom’ sprints past in two minutes and it’s clear that swapping one of those guitars for an acoustic has done nothing to dampen the band’s energy – there is no holding back here. This music is as ferocious as it is melodic, the choruses are infectious and the lead guitar work on this one holds nothing back, losing itself and falling apart gloriously. In amongst this selection of power pop nuggets lies the unexpectedly psychedelic stretch of ‘Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)’. Over ten minutes of playful explorations around a theme, it takes us on an epic journey, through a series of catchy alternate verses and cowbell punctuated guitar squalls, via Doorsy wurlitzer wig-out jams, to the eventual glorious return of ‘Freedom’s mile-high chorus.
After this long departure into Grateful Dead territory Segall takes us somewhere completely different with ‘Talkin’’, but it’s clear, sonically, that this is the same band in the same room – it’s just they’re a really good band and they’re not one trick ponies. The laid-back Americana and melody of this song, with its somewhat irreverent lyrics, remind me a lot of Harry Nilsson. “I’ve heard you talkin’ about your friends/Saying you don’t like them”, is a great opening couplet for this track, setting the scene perfectly. The lead-guitar on this one sounds like it has a real thick set of strings, strung tight enough to cut glass, but here it just cuts through the mix. Providing a tension that plays off the relaxed groove and bar-room piano beautifully. With Ty sounding so much like Lennon on ‘The Only One’, I find myself wondering if ‘Thank You Mr K’ is an homage to the Mr Kite character from the Sgt. Pepper’s album. You could say this song has a touch of the carnival to it with its chromatic riffage, but it’s far more pacey and chaotic than anything I can remember The Beatles producing. After just over a minute it stops abruptly and we hear what sounds like a bunch of smashed porcelain before the track comes in even wilder than before, the guitars are great but I’m particularly loving the piano on this one.
‘Orange Color Queen’ is the lead single from the album, and, again, it’s quite different to the earlier tracks. It begins with just acoustic guitar and vocal, before a couple of strikes to muted acoustic guitar strings usher in the band, immediately stepping the tempo up a couple of notches. This song would fit right in perfectly on one of Elliott Smith’s later albums, combining that love of 60s/70s melodic pop with the occasional flourish of grungey 90s guitar. It’s a class song and it speaks to Ty Segall’s mission statement for this album – to have an album with no experiments, just a set of the best songs he could write. Many artists would give themselves a bit of time to concentrate on this, but it’s a testament to Segall’s consistent and prolific output (we’re talking ten solo albums in ten years here… and the rest!) that he’s come up with such a strong batch in what must have been less than a year. Towards the end of the album there’s a general swerve towards the more restrained, but it’s still lively and vibrant. ‘Papers’ has very prog verse melodies, but it leans on the acoustic guitar and piano again, with a rousing chorus that the Stereophonics would be jealous of (although you know they’d get all of the soul produced out of it if it was theirs).
The last song on the album is a classy folk tinged number ‘Take Care (To Comb Your Hair)’. The second verse gives us the best example on the album of the close harmonies Segall does so well throughout. The melodic folk verses give way to the pure garage rock chops of the chorus and there’s some great guitar work in an extended solo section that’s all the more impressive for squeezing neatly into this three minute song, which takes you on as much of a journey as the ten minutes of ‘Warm Hands’. The album ends properly with a bit of a joke… the drummer counts in and we’re treated to the first full-band stab of opening track ‘Break A Guitar’. It’s an effective motif though because, after sitting through this 36 minute album, the sensible thing to do is put it straight back on again from the start. So I’ve decided: Ty Segall is a genius and you should buy this album. Job done. Right, I’m off to listen to the rest…