Douglas Martin prefers Caesar to Septimius Severus
The sentiment has become so well-worn that it’s now cliché: San Francisco’s psych/garage scene is extremely prolific. The Fresh & Onlys have a new EP out after releasing two full-lengths last year. John Dwyer, resident lynchpin of the city he reps, has led Thee Oh Sees to four full-lengths over the last two years. Wooden Shjips’ Ripley Johnson has released records with both his main band and psychedelic dance tandem Moon Duo over the past eighteen months. You get the point. But where the hell are Sic Alps? It’s been two years since they last put out a record.
Another name on that list is Ty Segall– the babyfaced garage-punk who writes and performs under his government name– who has released several records over the past few years, including-but-assuredly-not-limited-to fan-favorite Lemons and a full-length collaboration with Mikal Cronin. Where Segall lacks in the ingenuity and primal energy of Thee Oh Sees or the expert musical ability of The Fresh & Onlys, he more than makes up for in songwriting chops. If San Francisco is “the new Seattle”, a comparison that lesser writers have lazily used as a crutch (“the new Seattle“ has been misapplied critical shorthand since the Stone Age, when people were writing zines on tablets), then it’s very likely that Segall is the scene’s Kurt Cobainᶿ: A sloppily charismatic songwriter with a gifted ear for melody. This is no more readily apparent than on Melted.
Starting out with an intro that sounds alarmingly close to a From a Basement on the Hill-era Elliott Smith demo, “Finger” quickly transmogrifies into something else entirely; a swaggering, snarling fuck-shit-up tune, complete with ethereal high harmonies during the chorus and bookended by a shrill guitar solo not too far removed from a toy laser gun with a dying battery. Consisting of songs that truly live up to the name of its album title, Melted is an infectious distillation of Segall’s songwriting talents, ranging from jaunty acoustic tunes (“Imaginary Person” and “Caesar”, the latter of which featuring a charmingly amateurish flute solo from Dwyer), garage-rock anthems (“Girlfriend, “Bees”), and the slurry, low rumble of “Mike D’s Coke”, a song quite surprisingly not about drugs.
As jam-packed with addictive tunes as Melted is, the record’s highlights come from the 1-2 punches at the record’s middle and end. Before Side 1 ends with “Mike D’s Coke”, Segall strikes gold with the perfect hook of “Sad Fuzz”, followed by the exploding chords on the record’s title-track. “Mrs.”, Melted‘s penultimate track, finds Segall scaling things back a little and singing an almost-bluesy tune about the Mississippi River (white-boy blues isn‘t boring, after all! Who would have thought?). The track after it, titled “Alone”, pulls back even more, but never at the expense of Segall’s effortlessly charismatic vocals. If Spin Magazine, with all its fading relevance, ever decides to do one of those silly “scene reports” on San Francisco’s incredibly rewarding psych/garage-punk scene, Melted should rightfully be listed in the Essential Records sidebar. That is, unless he’s written and recorded an even better record in the time it took me to write this piece.
ᶿDon’t get your rosary beads caught in your bra and scream “blasphemy”, I’m comparing Segall and Cobain exclusively in relation to the San Francisco music scene.