Think outside the boombox: Ty Segall flaunts originality at its best with “Manipulator”

Music Columnist Patrick McKenna on the Bay Area basher’s latest work.

By Patrick McKenna | Sept. 2, 2014

Tags: Music Reviews

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He’s the prince of the grimy, cigarette-stained musical underworld. He’s one of the busiest artists around, having released seventeen albums through various outlets, not even counting his seven solo albums. He’s loved by nearly every weirdo with a sweet tooth for raunchy rock and roll. He is Ty Segall.

For those unaware of Mr. Segall’s prominence in the rock world, the man went from being completely unknown in 2008 to releasing three critically acclaimed albums in 2012, while trailblazing the newly distinct California rock sound. His sound embraces the energy of ‘90s skate-punk and distorted guitar chaos from the likes of the 13th Floor Elevators, T. Rex and Thee Oh Sees. A lover of punk, prog, pop and psychedelic, all genres come together in Segall’s sound.

In the middle of that timeframe came countless contributions to fellow Bay Area psych-garage aficionados such as Mikal Cronin, White Fence and Sic Alps. Throughout his six-year career, Segall has garnished the old but promising mentality of working incessantly while progressing as an artist by playing dirty bars and scuzzy venues.

Segall released his seventh and hands-down-strongest solo album this past week through Drag City. “Manipulator” has garnered heavily positive initial reception from the likes of Rolling Stone and The Guardian. Candidly demonstrating his progression from the lowest of lo-fi on 2009’s “Reverse Shark Attack” to streaks of glam-rock (“The Faker”) and Spanish-traditional guitar, Segall makes “Manipulator” reek of raunchy goodness. Even adding a silky string section to the unusual Segall ballad, “The Singer” proves to be a wonderful touch.

Fear not, Segall traditionalists. Not counting his cornerstone classics “Finger” (2010) and “I Bought My Eyes” (2012, with Ty Segall Band), “Manipulator” offers unimaginably wild slam-dancing salutes that may be his best yet, with the proto-punk “Susie Thumb” and “It’s Over” hefty on punk energy and maniacal guitar work.

The album overflows with the corrosively acidic hard rock Segall was raised on, but he still plays cleaner, more melodic songs. Everything seems to be an experiment gone well for the San Fran punk savior. Segall pulls every conceivable maneuver on what once was a fuzz-filled flood of simple chord progressions with the technicality of someone playing as consistently as he does.

Opening with a poppy organ over steady drumming, the wailing, soothing guitar beauty begins early on the title track, as Segall trades sharp screams for a high-pitched sigh and even some soul-style “ooohs.” He keeps the psychedelic groove going into the album’s standout track, “Tall Man Skinny Lady,” and combines a funky drum with an acoustic lead riff and scorching sounds of feedback that lead into a melting pot of lavishly danceable punk rock.

Through “Tall Man,” Segall shows “lo-fi or die” underground garage rock believers his hooks can be as manipulatively enticing as his sludgy, distorted bangers, and that element to his sound is why he’s king.

From there, all seventeen tracks off the double album compliment while competing with each other. Segall holds a consistent, breathlessly furious energy, only changing the fuzz level and era of style.

“Manipulator” without question holds the fewest of forgetful tunes compared to any of his past work. Ty Segall has yet again pushed through any possible pigeonholing by critics and fans alike, and has found a way to channel each element of rock that makes him the musician he is.

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