ARTIST: Ty Segall
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.”