Ty Segall fatigue? Get in better shape
A new year, a new Ty Segall record. Over the last decade, the restless California garage-rock savant has essentially released a new solo full-length each year — with the last three coming in the consecutive Januarys of 2016, 2017, and now 2018. None of that takes into consideration the collaborations and tributes and side projects and sideshows. He drums in steady-working rock band Fuzz. He’s teamed with buds like Mikal Cronin and Tim Presley (a.k.a. White Fence) for records. Under the name Ty Rex, he released interpretations of glam-blazing T. Rex tracks. Hell, he even runs his own Drag City subsidiary called GOD? Records. It’s enough side hustles to make Robert Fripp’s head spin.
Segall’s newest solo effort, Freedom’s Goblin (Drag City), goes a daunting 19 tracks deep. And, well, it’s excellent. It is. A broad mix of fuzzy theatrical glam rock — strutting with harpsichord-like piano lines and hefty horns — and solemn, mutative psych balladry, the album is Ty Segall supersized and uncut. Its ambition is nearly exhausting. There’s the sideways funk of “Despoiler of Cadaver,” which turns into a Butt Trumpet-like punk stomper with his wife Denee on vocals (“Meaning”), and the disjointed and meandering waltz of… “The Last Waltz.” Try and take intermissions, because they’ll be worth your while. Freedom’s Goblin is Segall flexing every muscle at once. Nothing feels off-limits, nothing out-of-bounds. One country-fried acoustic number will beget one proggy psych bomb. It’s as though he ceded control to his id, handed over all the instruments, and said, “Run with it.”
With every new Segall album, I’m reminded of the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival. Walking away from an afternoon set by the Oh Sees — fronted by Segall’s tight bro and fellow prolific songwriter John Dwyer — directly across the lawn to an afternoon set by Segall, I tweeted something to the tune of, “I bet both Dwyer and Segall will release a new record in the time it takes me to walk from the Blue Stage to the Red Stage.” Another hilarious tweet. Still, I think the logic behind it remains pretty sound.
So can there be such a thing as Ty Segall fatigue? Plumb the depths of the Ty Segall Reddit page, and you’ll find a mostly standard mix of those who believe Segall can do no wrong and those being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian (which is the Reddit way). Devotees to Segall’s earlier and simpler garage-rock gems like Melted and Goodbye Bread probably checked out around 2014’s Manipulator — and certainly with 2016’s Emotional Mugger — but those redditors who comb countless subreddits on Segall are likely to at least take interest in his new releases. Many are superfans, only some are occasional detractors.
One such detractor — let’s call this individual “SteveGroper” — ultimately believes less is more, and that if Segall curated his output he’d essentially be working to trim the fat. It’s a lukewarm take that’s followed Segall — and Dwyer for that matter — in album-reviews-cum-thinkpieces for years (including the one you are reading at this very moment). But it does warrant consideration. “He would really benefit from not putting out so many songs in such short periods,” so the thread goes. There’s also some conjecture about what makes one Segall record more memorable than another. Does his productiveness make it more difficult to create a record that will leave an impression? A little. Will there be a new record to consume before you’re really done digesting the one from the year prior? Probably. Should Segall give much of a shit and try to better pace his creativity? No way.
I’ve written about Ty Segall records in fits and starts over the years, and I’ve liked every one I was assigned to cover more than I’d expected. Even though I was sure it would be good. The aforementioned Emotional Mugger, as an example, is a beautiful freak spectacle. It’s Segall at his strangest and most experimental, nearly peacocking his rock-instrument mastery while also showing off a fluency in Beefheart-style decadence. Freedom’s Goblin is similar in its everything-but approach. Segall seems as contented to overwhelm you with the depth of each album as he does with his own discography. And it makes me wish I had the wherewithal to pay better attention, rather than occasionally shrug off another Ty Segall record as just another Ty Segall record.
Of course, all of this seems of little consequence to Segall himself. His churning success has become almost mythical in scope, although any jamoke can comb a Discogs page and marvel at a bottomless catalog. Maybe we should just be thankful that there’s a rock auteur who can’t seem to stop writing music — or really stop fudging with his own boundaries. There’s definitely no denying that his 2010 breakthrough Melted is still a goddamn excellent record of psych-tinted garage-rock gems. But hearing where he’s been willing to go since, it today feels like part of a much greater exercise, rather than just a phase of his sound. Which, of course, Segall has probably never given one shred of pause to… because he’s currently working on whatever comes next.