Ty Segall: When honesty becomes a vice
Mike Donovan | Monday, February 6, 2017
As readers, we should always approach autobiographies carefully. Their authors, while experts in the subject matter, are inherently biased. Self-indulgence and insecurities often cloud their anecdotes and spin the story into fictional territory. If we digest the text correctly, the authorial bias gives new life to the text. If we don’t, the writing will lie to our faces.
Ty Segall’s latest self-titled album is an autobiography, and, like written autobiographies, it demonstrates all the difficulties that we associate with authorial bias. The only difference is that Segall doesn’t tell his life story in lyrics — he tells his artistic story in music. If we want to figure out what Segall is trying to do, we have to unpack the arrangements.
“Ty Segall” packs eight full-length LPs and an extensive list of formative records (See: Syd Barrett’s entire discography) onto a 10-track canvas. Each song idealizes a different sector of Segall’s musical range, synthesizing his past work and influences into a single musical idea. Tighter production techniques give the tracks a bright sheen. Like fond memories, they observe the past through a tinted looking glass.
The record conjures up a few renditions of Segall’s trademark garage rock. “The Only One,” for instance, takes Ty Segall circa 2008 and packages it in a shiny new high-fidelity box, but it doesn’t capture the loose rage that made tracks like “The Drag” so enjoyable. The more pointed anger of a technically proficient modern player has replaced careless fury of younger days. The opener, “Break a Guitar,” incorporates forceful glam punk aesthetics to suit the tighter band, remodeling Bowie’s flare with Segall’s staple punch, but it again feels refurbished and mundane.
Segall’s folk efforts, on the other hand, hold their own. “Orange Color Queen” offers a heartwarming glimpse into the garage rocker’s sweeter thoughts. The quirky acoustic progression recalls the unsettling folk of his 2013 album “Sleeper,” while grounding itself in comforting melodies and endearing lyrics. Another standout track, “Talkin’” draws on the familiar rhythms of classic country and the power-pop sensibility of Alex Chilton. It’s easily the record’s most accessible track. But, despite the flawlessly executed rustic ballad, these tracks lack panache.
The single “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)” towers over the rest of the album. On a record of good but largely forgettable productions, “Warm Hands” shocks us with a sprawling soundscape. The 10-minute epic cobbles Segall’s entire discography into one song. It barrages the listener with violent punk sections, brooding psych folk elements and unabashed pop rock, alongside elements of experimental and jazz. The kaleidoscope of sound morphs quickly and without warning — Segall’s chaotic headspace laid bare. Moreover, it keeps the listeners engaged for the duration thanks to its whirlwind transitions.
So, what do we make of this autobiography? Do the well-meaning but flat garage-rock efforts, well-executed but uninventive acoustic tracks and a standout epic add up to something more?
It certainly gives an accurate history of Segall’s musical exploits. Like Segall’s discography, the album transforms often and without warning. We can’t put in under a single umbrella.
That said, I don’t think we need a history of Ty Segall. He would have been better off creating another brilliant work of fiction. His previous work stuck with us because it was so unpredictable. With each new record, we got to see Segall put on a new costume and tell a new story. His refreshing vignettes let us escape from the indie rock norm for a few songs. 2017’s “Ty Segall” doesn’t deliver this spontaneity. It’s too sincere.
Album: Ty Segall
Artist: Ty Segall
Label: Drag City
Favorite Tracks: “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned),” “Orange Color Queen,” “Talkin”
If you like: The Oh Sees, Sad Barrett, Black Lips