3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Reinvention, change and transformation are essential elements in pop music. You don’t need to mimic David Bowie’s constantly altering personas to stay relevant, but from the Beatles to Tom Waits and even the Ramones, change is a critical element for longevity in the always fluid music world. It’s something even the once defiantly low-fi garage rocker Ty Segall understands. His 2012 compilation Singles 2007-2010 laid out the first part of his music making life in 25 songs, none over three minutes/some under two, that captured the raw, animalistic nature of his Brit Invasion punk roots. But with last year’s all acoustic Sleeper, he seemed to turn a corner, perhaps setting the stage for the next stage of his career. If the dense, heavily overdubbed Manipulator is a new beginning, Segall has found the perfect path forward.
Like his friend and former bandmate Mikal Cronin, Segall has shifted to an indie power pop/rock musician who uses the studio with surprisingly mature craft and precision. That doesn’t mean he transforms to a slick Steely Dan sheen, but rather that Segall has tightened up his sound, spent time on arrangements that reduce the clutter and utilized overdubbing to fatten the overall attack. There remains a retro vibe; he has a particular affinity to Marc Bolan/T. Rex glam evident in songs such as “The Hand” and the falsetto voicings of “The Singer.” There are traces of the power of early Who in the intense, grinding “The Crawler.” Yet this is no traipse down memory lane. Rockers such “Feel” with its powerful bass riff are more forceful and memorable than anything Segall has previously released. When he doubles and triple tracks guitars as he does on that and other tunes, the psychedelic affect is propulsive and electric.
With 17 tracks stretching over 57 minutes, perhaps some judicious editing could have trimmed the excess, but this remains a major step forward for Segall and a logical extension of a direction he was already headed in. Its finest moments are arguably his best work and the sure sense of utilizing the studio to define a newfound direction indicates he might just be scratching the surface for even better things to come.