Jonah Bromwich rocks a powdered wig.
Ty Segall and White Fence’s new collaborative album Hair is very good. That’s not a surprise. Segall is an eternally under-appreciated, songwriting and riff whiz and White Fence’s Tim Presley, while not quite of Segall’s stature, has shown the ability to add both heart and muscle to his guitar-history collages. So yeah, it’s not surprising at all that the two collaborating makes all kinds of excellent, cat-scratch sense, and marks another artistic step for Segall.
Last year’s Goodbye Bread found Segall working in a mellower arena of sound — showing off his songwriting prowess and letting the tempo move with delightfully sluggishness. While the album was excellent, some complained that the pure joy of noise that animated most of Segall’s previous work was missing.
Communicating malaise requires some sloth, the natural lack of urgency that goes with, well, sitting around feeling malaise. One would think that the emotional release and aggression that noise provides rests in another place entirely. But on Hair the rough sound is blended with smooth, and slow and upbeat sounds bleed into each other time and time again. There’s a couple of out and out bangers (“Crybaby,” “I Can’t Get Around You”) and another song, “The Black Glove/Rag,” splits these two sides neatly, but for the most part, the transitions are much less predictable, and much more exciting.
The appropriately named “Time” plays with traditional tempo from the beginning, as the usually breakneck count to four is droned slowly. From that moment on, it feels as if the song’s struggling to get on its feet, as Segall assures the listener in a kind of mournful wail, “that’s alright, we are stoned, and you know it takes tiiiime.” But just when you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that this is just a slow album-opener (and a good one), three minutes in with only about a minute left, the song hits a muscular high gear, cementing its melody in your mind.
From there we hit the energetic screechy dissonance of “I Am Not A Game” the first single and an excellent West Coast pride anthem, with a smooth Dire Straits guitar line leading us in and out of the thickets of excellent guitar work. Next comes a fantastic new “Easy Rider” which adds a kind of Pynchon paranoia that flips the Hendrix track on its nose. This easy rider isn’t one to envy; he can’t even go to sleep for fear of being brainwashed and robbed, possibly by aliens. Lyrically, this track best represents the album as a whole. It’s too jagged to be chill, with just the right amount of lunacy and sun to keep things from getting too dark.
But musically, it’s the two tracks that end the album that really exemplify the wild mix, that stir those barbed chords into melodies which snag on parts of your brain and just stay there. “Scissor People” spells trouble with pretty finger pickings surrounded on all sides by noise that just keeps closing in, the melody somehow sticking it out until about halfway through when the noise takes over for a second and then—clear sound! All the better to hear the cascading soloes that close out the song. And “Tongues,” comes across as a softy, almost respectful, until the vocals leave, and prodigious instrumental skill is the only thing left kicking, and kicking hard until it just devolves into shrieks and murmurs.
Ty Segall and Tim Presley are young guys and they act like it on Hair. There’s no contentment to speak of. No satisfaction. Just incredible talent when it comes to writing guitar songs, and enough confidence to contort pretty melodies into sounds that are rougher, bleaker, and better.
MP3: Ty Segall & White Fence – “I am Not a Game”