Ty Segall - Manipulator

Bay Area prolifirocker Ty Segall continues to amend the idiom—quantity is quality—with scorching double-album, Manipulator.

Additional Info

7.9

ALBUM: Manipulator

ARTIST: Ty Segall

2014

Alternative

San Francisco has more people per square mile than any other city in the United States, excepting NYC. It is a crowded peninsula that prides itself for playing a major role in the cultural revolution of the 60s, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood being the epicenter of the Summer of Love. Since then, its psychedelic roots have been subsumed by the intertidal tourist, kitsch, and boutique markets, but Bay Area psych rockers Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees have been combatting rock obsolescence by contributing a breakneck output of fuzzed-out, lo-fi, psychedelic garage rock albums over the past decade. Segall alone has at least co-generated eighteen albums since 2008. These sudden alt juggernauts have forced their way into the alternative music conversation by steadily flooding the marking with a good and occasionally great infantry of tracks, simultaneously plunging a throbbing red pushpin into SF, marking it as a city too with more critically-acclaimed album releases per square mile, at least in this past decade.

Manipulator, Ty Segall’s fourth LP with Drag City (following one with Burger Records; two with Goner records; one as the Ty Segall Band; and scores of collaborative LPs, EPs, splits, and singles) is internally prolific, a double-album consisting of seventeen tracks. The fifty-eight-minute LP’s average song is a breezy three minutes and twenty-four seconds, a function of the synchronous discourse with the era and genres it’s explicitly reviving. Manipulator is a joist that spans decades of dive-bombing psychedelic rock, fuzzy garage rock, experimental prog rock, and crass protopunk.

As the principal musician on all of these tracks, Segall joined Chris Woodhouse in Sacramento’s The Dock Studio for fourteen months of recording, a sluggish pace when compared to his 2008-2013 regimen. Apparently, Woodhouse’s status as an engineering stickler acted as a psychostimulant to Segall’s usual hyperactive scatterplot of momentum. Manipulator amplifies and refines the mostly-acoustic Sleeper (2013), six of the first seven tracks loud glam romps that feature a program of tenor falsetto, infectious chorus, left-hand muted strum patterns, barreling bass, and tom roll. On each track, the lead guitar becomes untethered, a torrential force surging somewhere above the accelerated din, replete with screeching and chuffing ambience, combustible riffs, dexterous hammer-ons, pull-offs, and tapping passages.

“The Singer” and “The Clock” (tracks three and seven) feature chorus violin to affect a sense of gravitas that is mostly diminished by the album’s second course, which tends to recycle the tricks of the first half. “Connection Man” and “Mister Main” (tracks nine and ten) act as intentionally underdeveloped intermission tracks. The back-to-back “Susie Thumb” and “Don’t You Know? (Sue)” appear not as a revisions or echoes of one another, but as bona fide versions, a telescoping mini rock opera. There are a smattering of archetypal characters (some recurring) including The Singer, The Faker, The Crawler, Mister Main, Connection Man, and the more whimsical Susie Thumb and Green Belly. As with previous Segall albums, the voice acts as its own instrument, a conveyor of mood and visceral nods at the emotional underpinnings of these tracks. The lyrics, when distinguishable, skate the surface, another facet of 60s replication.

Last week, Ty Segall spun David Bowie, Devo, Alice Cooper, and Cream on NPR, citing them as major influences for Manipulator. Just imagining a super group as eclectic as Bowie, Mothersbaugh, Cooper, and Clapton only scratches at the surface of what the guitar-centric Manipulator offers. Add to that slurry The Troggs, MC5, The Stooges, Nirvana, and Jay Reatard along with contemporary artists like The Oh Sees, King Tuff, White Fence, Mikal Cronin, and Fuzz, and you have a sense of the tradition Segall evokes and inflects with equal parts tumult and control.

On the last track, “Stick Around” (the longest on the album), Segall is self-aware of the colossal footprint he has just left on his catalogue—colossal in its volume and technical range. Even so, he sings, “though we have to go, you know we want to stick around” as if he is being dragged away from a musical playground. Segall shuts the album down with swagger: “When we play, you know we’re gonna play all day.”

“When we play, you know we’re gonna play all day.”

1. Manipulator
As if in a psyched-out baseball stadium, a hyper organ cues Segall’s hypnotic voice. Unsure if Segall is the hypnotizer or hypnotized, the harmonized guitars stream á la Allman Brothers hammer-ons and pull-offs. Segall previews the falsetto that will dominate the rest of the album (“ma-nip-u-la-tor”) along with the first torrent of laser wah guitar and a last-minute bass sweep.9.0
2. Tall Man, Skinny Lady
Opening with snares and a hiss of hi-hat, Segall’s left-hand muted strum pattern offers a pronounced texture of muffled clicking throughout “Tall Man, Skinny Lady.” Despite the grim snark of lyrics like “I tried to kill myself,” the post-verse remind the listener of the Manipulator’s freshness index. As if taking the first sips of a soda, the vocal equivalent of a cymbal hiss, Segall replaces the cool with a regimen of screech guitar, high-fret tremolo, and (is that Ozzy?) falsetto. The left-hand muting is even more pronounced after the second verse since the soloing guitar is cleaner toned. This second solo features alternate picking with the bass as a constant anchor, ending with card-in-the-wheels sixteenth notes and a broken-down song waiting on AAA.8.6
3. The Singer
A clean arpeggio (as if a lead-in to Journey’s SF ode, “Lights”) announces the onset of ballad, reaffirmed by Segall’s sliding falsetto: “Now, I feel so down / shuffling around on the ground.” A whisper echoes the end stops, occurring at intervals demarcated by a seizing distorted guitar. The violin in the chorus with ticky-tacky bass recalls Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. The clean-toned guitar solo sounds like a fragment of Jimmy Page’s from “Heartbreaker.”9.2
4. It's Over
Tight bass bounces with quick-handed snare until the guitar squeals. A fuzzed-out anthemic chorus (“it’s over / it’s over / oh old friend / oh it’s over”) is infectious and insisting, sung in a bratty drench of reverb. The song could pass for a Hives hit, or Queens of the Stone Age. It’s a jaunty, romping track that accelerates at 2:25—tempo and volume are adrenalized, showcasing Segall at his most aggressive, harnessing the power of MC5.9.0
5. Feel
With driving bass in the background, “Feel” transforms Segall’s voice into the realm of demented but fun (think King Tuff). Casual pick scrapes act as connective tissue throughout the song. As the guitar unhinges (a live rendition was seen on Conan two weeks ago), frenzied distorted scales are controlled with downpicking attacks, followed by tapping passages. A drum solo perforates the song at Segall’s modulated chant-command: “feel, feel, feel, feel,” a command for self and listener alike.8.3
6. The Faker
After the fever pitch of “Feel,” “The Faker” necessarily begins with a slower roll. Strung out bar chords ease the listener into the track before a measure of sixteenth notes signal a blue-collar rock tempo. In a melody similar to The Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week,” albeit edgier and within a landscape of deep fuzz, Segall encourages the workaday listener: “Ask your bossman for a raise.” The second sixteenth-note scale comes with a matching snare roll, followed by one of Segall’s tamer solos. The virtuoso rests after five tracks hard at work. After the last chorus, Segall opts for voice modulation and repetition that sounds like an out-of-place study in playful 60s rock before fading out with another tame solo.7.7
7. The Clock
A catchy, acoustic riff reestablishes Segall’s technical mastery. The song could pass for an urgent Beck track from Morning Phase. The violin reminds us of the gravitas of “The Singer,” a decadent glam rock flair. With an erratic time signature, clock becomes a mimetic motif.7.4
8. Green Belly
If the first five songs were meant to impress and inflict themselves upon the listener, a song like “Green Belly” serves a more narrative purpose. “He’s gonna make a movie of his entire life,” Segall sings, an ekphrastic nod at the comprehensive tact of Manipulator. Just as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood soundtrack synchronizes with the lives of its protagonist, “Green Belly” suggests the chronological time stamps inherent to these songs. At the end of “Green Belly,” Segall is again modulating, this time adding “bah, bah, bah-bah-bah” to an authentic lo-fi track reminiscent of a Yardbirds tune.8.5
9. Connection Man
Fuzzy Morse code dribble is intercepted by screeching guitars, and Segall’s freaky conspiratorial falsetto redoubles, though with less utility. It’s foggy, distant. As one of the album’s low points, “Connection Man” does not develop beyond its intermissive role. At only two minutes and seventeen seconds, it’s also the shortest song on the album, literally connecting/ambient welding album one and album two of Manipulator.6.5
10. Mister Main
“Mister Main” is a groove-based track whose funk drums are matched by even funkier bass. There is a guitar harmonized with the bass, but it rides atop not alongside the groove. Segall leads in with falsetto in this song (never actually abandoning it), lets its high octaves contrast with the deep bass. Also under three minutes, “Mister Main” continues this ambient progression to the second half of Manipulator. A few scratchy bent notes manifest before the fade.7.0
11. The Hand
Initially, I heard Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” as “The Hand” begins. The country-accented fingerpicking only suggests a new direction since Segall, of course, keeps things psych with a strum pattern that replaces Earle’s imprint, eviscerates it really by the time Segall’s electric shred cuts in. Strangely, the acoustic guitar and drums fade completely away, and Segall calmly sings to his own guitar solo, which makes for a trippy fade out. Kudos to Woodhouse.7.2
12. Susie Thumb
The next three tracks are a suite of songs all under two-and-a-half minutes. “Susie Thumb” is anthemic proto-punk, recalling The Troggs with the aggression of Nirvana. The chorus appeals to a pop sensibility, but is eventually peeled away by two shredding guitars working against each other, only occasionally aware of each other, conversing through pull-off mimicry and synchronized tremolo picking. Mostly, though, they just act out, transcending “Susie Thumb’s” pop hooks.9.2
13. Don’t You Want to Know? (Sue)
This song begins as more of a ballad to ol’ Sue. Its voicings are permutations of the last track’s melody, more ominous, as if the second movement of a mini rock opera. A breakneck departure into electric bass and up-tempo drums turns “Don’t You Know? (Sue)” into another version of its predecessor, a liberty Segall can take with a seventeen-track double LP. Even though it’s bookended by acoustic guitar, the acoustic coda still manages to be punctuated by electric guitar, a nod at the invasive guitar-centric nature of Manipulator.8.4
14. Crawler
With MC5 aggression, “Crawler” offers less in terms of melody. A fuzzy bass takes charge of this song as Segall demands: “Let’s go / let’s go tonight.” It doesn’t attain the dynamism of previous songs, and because of this, it somehow stretches a scant two minutes and twenty-four seconds way thin.6.2
15. Who’s Producing You?
The percussion is accented by a steady egg shaker, establishing granular terrain for the ripple of harmonized guitar through the first verse. Segall whimpers like Jagger, but range this late into an album just feels like unintegrated waste. The album’s momentum has been forfeited (debatably around track nine or ten, but certainly by fourteen), so recalls of archetypal characters(?) such as “Main Man” are ineffectual. As such, the songs need to generate their own momentum. It nearly happens in “Who’s Producing You?” as a tempo change at 1:35 triggered by impressive tom rolls commands the track’s back half before fading out.7.0
16. The Feels
“The Feels” begins acoustically, and Segall sings out the staid rock cliché: “Now, when I look into your eyes / I realize you’re the same as me / just wanted to be free.” It’s as if he’s acknowledging the listener’s endurance—the fact of sticking out sixteen guitar rock songs—has proven them an individual interested in and deserving of freedom. However, Segall follows up with an apocalyptic caveat as the “I” and “you” combine in tragic fate: “When we look into the skies / we realize, it just can’t be / we’ll never be free.” An appropriately apocalyptic solo crescendos through speed picked minor notes, which dives from a boomerang cliff back to its acoustic origin, a melody and strum pattern similar to Everlast’s “What It’s Like.”7.1
17. Stick Around
Aware that the end is nigh, Segall sings, “Though we have to go / you know we want to stick around… when we play / you know we’re gonna play all day.” Segall is unapologetic about the fifty-eight-minute course he’s just taken; he is, in fact, still reveling in Manipulator’s circumference, ending with a four-minute and thirty-three second track, the longest of the album, making for a long guitar-laden goodbye apropos the aesthetic herein.7.0
Written by Lawrence Lenhart
Lawrence Lenhart received his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, where he was the editor-in-chief of Sonora Review. He is the recipient of two Foundation Awards, two Taube Awards, and the Laverne Harrell Clark Award in Fiction.

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