The final part of The Top 50 Albums list arrives on Monday. In the interim, allow Douglas Martin to serenade you with the sweet sounds of Ty Segall.
I. TY IS NOT A GAME
Did you record not one, not even two, but three outstanding full-length LPs this year? Did you still have time to do multiple U.S. tours and even dip out of the country a few times to promote them? Did you follow your career breakout with a year that could feasibly make the modern rock history books? I don’t mean to start this on a confrontational note, but unless you’re Robert Pollard — a man who made indie-rock history long ago — you probably didn’t do any of these things.
There are artists who recorded better albums (though not by a wide margin), there are artists who had better live sets (in fact, Ty’s own friends in Thee Oh Sees can lay claim to this achievement), but there isn’t an artist found in all of 2012 who has had a greater number of them than Ty Segall.
Through a collaborative triumph, an essential live album not actually recorded in front of an audience, and for what is my money the best record of his still-remarkably-young career (and let’s not forget producing Ex-Cult’s stellar debut album), Segall went from the type of excellent artist that only people like me rave over to quite possibly his generation’s most deserving rock star in less time than it takes most artists to record one album. Hair, Slaughterhouse, and Twins could each be on a Top 20 list of any year of the past decade. The fact they were all recorded in a year as good for music as 2012 is a truly astounding feat.
II. ‘CAUSE YOU KNOW IT TAKES TIME
In all actuality, Hair is more of a coup for the musician billed in tandem with Segall than it is for Ty himself. Though White Fence proprietor Tim Presley recorded two of his own masterpieces this year (which were conceived and released as companion pieces), he’s the lone credited songwriter on “I Am Not a Game,” which is the best song on the album and pretty much the best song he’s written to date. He’s the one who benefited the most from putting his name on the same ticket as Segall — Hair was released on Segall’s label and if we’re being frank, his name was not nearly as well-kept secret as White Fence from the get-go. It’s not like Segall needed the street-cred or anything (nobody was calling him a sellout in the first place, but I’m sure Ty Rex helped solidify his sterling reputation in the garage world), but he definitely gained something by being the temporary wild-eyed Lennon to Presley’s acid-drenched McCartney.
For starters, there are the two songs Segall and Presley wrote together, laid-back opener “Time” and psychedelic freakouts “Scissor People” and “Tongues” (the latter written with Presley’s brother Sean, also of San Francisco nerd-poppers Nodzzz). Neither of them feel stitched together in any way; they both very much feel like the seamless effort of a combined vision. At times previously throughout their respective careers, Presley and Segall have had some significant overlap in inspiration, though they’ve both been able to execute it with their own sense of personality. During its best moments, Hair — “Scissor People” and “Time” especially — is a synthesis of shared influences, providing a host of points where you ask yourself which artist came up with which part.
It’s safe to say “Easy Ryder” is boilerplate Segall, conceivably a holdover from the Goodbye Bread sessions, but his other solo contribution serves as a genuine career highlight. Altering the most overused surf progression in the history of rock ‘n roll into a sneering, snarling and genuinely unsettling blast of garage-punk, “Crybaby” finds Segall in full-on hellraiser mode, conjuring the sloppy charisma and genuine weirdness of the aforementioned Oh Sees — complete with a spastic piano solo by Mikal Cronin. What makes it more impressive is Segall finding a way to cram all of this sensory overload into less than two minutes. The kid is a pro.
III. FUCK THIS FUCKIN’ SONG
Slaughterhouse closes how it opens, with an extended spate of guitar noise. Writing that sentence didn’t really sound that impressive to me until I remembered which artist I was writing about. Ty Segall’s not afraid of noise, it’s obvious to say he even likes noise. But longform noise experiments are more the forte of one of the many bands he’s formerly a member of: Sic Alps. Segall generally employs dissonance and distortion within the confines of pop music; freewheeling, atonal solos and fretboard tomfuckery are usually wrapped up in a digestible amount of time. The first :52 and final 10:23 of Slaughterhouse exclusively consists of pure, unfiltered fucking noise. But Segall does a lot of things differently on his second album of 2012 than he’s done before.
Not to imply he’s made a full about-face on the record, though: After the whirring dissipates on “Death,” it’s pretty much as classic Segall as there ever was. Billed for both label and artistic credit purposes as Ty Segall Band — released on In the Red (and not Drag City, where Segall’s been signed since late-2010) and rounded out by guitarist Charlie Mootheart, bassist Mikal Cronin, and drummer Emily Rose Epstein — Slaughterhouse is an incredibly self-evident title, as it’s some of the most brutal-sounding music Segall has laid to tape yet.
For conclusive evidence, look no further than the head-splitting repetitions of “I Bought My Eyes” and total blitzkrieg of the record’s title track. “Wave Goodbye,” with its Sabbath-like riff and slowed (and then sped-up) tempo, plays like Segall’s evil twin possessed his body for four-and-a-half minutes. The battle within is self-evident, as it sounds like either Segall is trying to exorcise said evil twin or the evil twin is trying to exorcise himself. It’s one of the five best songs Segall’s ever recorded, and by the album’s closing shout of “Fuck! Yeah!”, it’s clear he’s fully aware of it.
As David Bevan’s great profile of Segall brings to light, the 25-year-old Californian is no stranger to classicism, doing his best to emphasize that punks can dig the type of music punk was originally invented to destroy without it being the mortal sin it once was. Destruction is certainly on the dinner menu, though, as “The Bag I’m In” and his band’s gleefully aborted cover of “Diddy Wah Diddy” explore classic rock ‘n roll the way Lux Interior and Darby Cash did. But there’s also a fair amount of homage being paid, as “Muscle Man” and “Mary Ann” play like the kind of vintage garage classics the Stooges reimagined and defiled. In addition to displaying the immense talents of his backing musicians, Slaughterhouse contains equal parts concise focus, defiant self-indulgence, and a willingness to have just have some goddamn fun. Never has Segall combined his three sharpest attributes so thoroughly.
IV. THERE’S A PROBLEM IN MY BRAIN
When you consider the path Segall’s been on since his 2010 modern classic Melted, it’s easy to place Twins into the lineage of his official solo albums. Just like Melted and Goodbye Bread before it, Twins has all of the hallmarks of a great Ty Segall album: Decent (but not too decent) recording quality, songwriting omnivorousness, exceptional sequencing. Unlike pre-Putrifiers II Oh Sees or even his own work this year prior to Twins, when Segall goes to make a record, it’s clear he thinks about the Album as a Complete Thought rather than just a collection of enjoyable songs. When assessing things completely on these terms, Twins may very well be his greatest album yet.
Not to undercut my point, but every album should still have a collection of enjoyable songs, and Segall’s sixth solo album in five years is an embarrassment of riches. There’s the shuffle-to-decay of “Inside Your Heart,” the bouncy and romantic “Would You Be My Love,” the brooding and visceral “Handglams,” the Laurel Canyon folk balladry(!) of “Gold on the Shore.” He’s flirty on “Thank God for Sinners” (“You give me the sweets, you know”), scared out of his mind on “Ghost,” and even sings in a falsetto on “Love Fuzz.” (Maybe not well enough for Frank Ocean to lose sleep, but also way better than you’d expect from a dude who shreds his throat screaming 150 nights out of the year.)
And then there’s the one requirement of every great album: The Surefire Lead Single. Opening with gorgeous, blissed-out harmonies from Thee Oh Sees’ Brigid Dawson — which sounds like it could also either be those of either Grass Widow or the Sandwitches, which proves how much San Francisco’s rock scene really stands out — Segall rips into a joyride through his home away from home, the city by the bay. The vocal melody is instantly familiar but goes into unexpected directions, it’s pretty much the perfect length, and there’s glorious solo threatening to rip everything into jagged and uneven pieces. If we’re being honest with ourselves, “The Hill” is basically “Tomorrow Never Knows” on scuzzier drugs, but that’s probably the highest compliment I could pay any rock song.
While on the surface it doesn’t seem as though Segall is an insanely conceptual dude, peeling back the layers of Twins shows there’s more than meets the eye here. Sure, the themes are familiar to anyone who’s ever listened to a white dude under 30 sing and play guitar, but they employ a level of multiplicity seemingly foreign to a guy who sang “Drink Coca-Cola with me” only two years ago. Except for the apocalyptic and thrilling closer “There is No Tomorrow,” there are pairs of songs (twins, if you will) holding the same key word. Doctors, ghosts, and hills all manage to wander in and out of the album’s lyric sheet as Segall tries, as we all do, to reckon with the halfway point of our twenties. Only many of us can hope to do so with such panache.
V. TY IS NOT A GAME (REDUX)
I hate to tell you this, but many people saw this year coming. As prolific as Ty Segall has been, as talented as he is, it’s not entirely a surprise to see him have a year like this. Times are changing, he’s getting older, and unless he proves to have the stamina of fellow Californian garage lifers John Dwyer and Mike Donovan, he may not have another year where he puts out three essential albums. Sure, he runs through more great material in a short amount of time than a great many rock musicians have ever written, but after 2012, he’s certainly earned the right to kick his feet up and only release one album a year until he decides to hang up his Gibson for good. Even if he never makes another great album, he’ll at least have the single year he made three in a row well-documented in the history books.
MP3: Ty Segall & White Fence – “I Am Not a Game