Ty Segall: To The Wonder

Photo by Denee Petracek

Finally, after nearly a decade of non-stop releases, do we finally have an album that says, “This is what Ty Segall sounds like?” Not that the California native and multi-instrumentalist hasn’t had a sound in the past, it’s that over his nine studio albums, three EPs and half-dozen side projects, including Fuzz and Sic Alps, he’s covered so much sonic territory that he’s been almost impossible to nail down. Even for fans that have been there since the beginning, it’s tough to chart all of the times Segall has slipped in and out through punk, glam, psychedelic and folk sounds. Until now.

With his latest self-titled LP – his second self-titled LP in less than a decade, for those keeping score at home – Segall has delegated some of the recording duties and nearly all of the performance duties for the first time in his career. That’s right, Ty Segall made a record with a band. After 10 years of cutting every instrument and every track, he brought other folks into the studio to make a record. The result of this delegation is that Ty Segall (the album) sounds more like Ty Segall (the person) than ever before. The contributions of cohorts like Mikal Cronin focus Segall’s often kaleidoscopic visions into the most cohesive and consistent collection of his career.

“It’s amazing, this band is so good,” Segall tells American Songwriter, the so drawn out just enough to let you know Segall is really stoked. “They are a really, really fun group to play with. It’s so fun to write and arrange something and then take it to people to have them interpret it. For every part of the music that was fully written and structured there was a moment that was free to interpret and jam.”

On the album it is tough to see where the structure ends and the jamming begins. It can happen in the course of a bar, a fleeting moment where the whole universe expands and contracts or stretches out over the length of a song, like the 10-minute “Warm Hands (Freedom Returns)”. It’s got a Beatles-by-way-of-Marc-Bolan vocal line that cedes to Bleach-era grunge vibes succumbing to a Sabbath-invoking sludge before swirling way out into the cosmos and conjuring the spirits of Amon Duul and the Grateful Dead. It’s edge-of-the-seat listening, a composition that seems impossible on paper but works precisely because of its unwieldy scale. But it also captures a surety in Segall’s voice that hasn’t always been there.

“Vocals are always challenging for me,” Segall explains. “I would always like to make them better but there was nothing really insane, like I would have to take a break from recording to throw myself off a building, which always happens. But vocals are always the most difficult thing for me … I think back in the day it was more a physical [challenge] because I was still learning what I could do [with my voice]. But now, you know, you can get yourself in a wormhole if you repeat the song too much. Too much repetition and you can really psyche yourself out.

“Before this record, in the last version of my band, I just sang so it’s really, really fun to put the guitar back on. That was the most rewarding thing, to watch these guys, this band, play my songs in a way that I could never do. It’s super cool to watch.”

A glimmer of awestruck wonderment creeps into every song on Ty Segall, whether it’s the broken glass breakdown of “Thank You Mr. K.” or the way “The Only Ones” lurches and throbs like primordial arena rock. When he slips into folk-pop mode on “Take Care (To Comb Your Hair)”, the song exudes a warmth and playfulness that makes it one of his most endearing compositions to date. Segall sounds more comfortable and more excited than he ever has and the results are hooks and riffs that are damn near unshakable.

While Ty Segall might not have a grand conceptual frame – no storyline or irresistible PR hook – what it does have are some of the more durable and undeniable songs to arise from the 21st Century garage/psych underground. As listeners we are often presented with artists that are searching for themselves but rarely do we get to hear the moment of discovery. Ty Segall, free from self-imposed rules and artistic restrictions, finds a groove in piling one great song idea on top of the other and letting the band have their way with those ideas. The result is a mystical love child that will melt your heart and your face.

“Playing with this band has ignited a new excitement for me,” Segall says. “The idea of just making records – I’m such total record nerd and such a fan of albums – it’s almost an insatiable need to make more stuff.”

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