Saturday, November 5, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 3: Ty Segall (and his various inspirations)

Just wanted to go with something grotesque. That wasn't the album cover.
I used to frequent a site called It was mostly an outlet for (my understanding of) EDM (electronic dance music, yes?), or it might actually have been nothing more than a space for remixes of popular pop songs. I never read the site’s mission statement and resentment that I had to get on Facebook to download their content formed the strongest thought/emotion I had for it, but I’ve bent all kinds of dumb ways for free/cheap music. Anyway, amidst all the Skrillex and Deadmau5 and DJ Bahler (hey, it was 2012, Year of Mayan Death), I came across Ty Segall. Or I might have found his song, “I Bought My Eyes,” on Pitchfork, back when that site offered up more free downloads. Again, I’m very, very cheap.

“I Bought My Eyes” led me to Slaughterhouse, the album it came from. When I plugged in my earbuds to get reacquainted with it, I realized that I’d never actually got acquainted with it before. I picked it up based on that one song, which is pretty good if you ask me, but then I listened to the rest maybe once and never went back again. If you’ve ever got too ambitious on collecting music, this shouldn’t sound strange at all – I mean, who hasn’t over-bought at some point (or, in the modern era, over-subscribed)? – but things got (mildly) weirder after. I hopped over to Spotify to confirm that I could find it there, because why (intentionally) tell you about something you can’t find and listen to (then again, youtube)…only I couldn’t find it. Spotify has plenty of Ty Segall stuff – good stuff, too – but Slaughterhouse didn’t pull up. From there, I went to The Lazy Man’s Encyclopedia (Wikipedia) to see if I couldn’t figure out why. So I read his entry, and, like most music stuff, it’s interesting, lousy with other avenues to explore, both with Ty Segall, in particular, and his related projects, etc.

As I read, though, something caught my eye:
"Segall has stated in interviews that his favorite band of all time is Hawkwind.”
I only mention to explain the delay between volumes in this series.

I don’t remotely understand who actually follows my twitter feed (or why), but that’s the reason why I asked about Hawkwind a few days back. I’d heard Hawkwind a couple times before, but I’ve never done more than scratch the surface (and, holy shit, is it a big surface). I had, on the other hand, listened to Slaughterhouse, and I’d listened to Hawkwind, and the two memories felt enough like they came from very, very different lives and experiences that I couldn’t figure out why Ty Segall, or anyone writing about him, would ever bring up Hawkind. As in, nothing alike. The primary influences cited – Black Sabbath, Marc Bolan, Black Flag – lined up all right, but Hawkwind just doesn’t come through.

So I listened to two days’ worth of Hawkwind. As noted above (if parenthetically/cryptically), they’re still cranking out “content,” but I confined myself to their first album and a couple collections titled “Decades” that spanned the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I found some songs I didn’t mind ("lsd," from the 80s era), plus a song or two I liked (e.g., “25 Years” and “Quark, Strangeness & Charm” (incredible goddamn video, by the way), but nothing that sounded like anything I’d heard on Slaughterhouse. (Let the record show that 90s Hawkwind doesn’t sound a whole lot like Hawkwind either, so there’s that). And that called for expanding beyond Slaughterhouse…which, it turns out, was released under something called the Ty Segall Band. So, yeah, if you wanna hear that, you have to search for “Ty Segall Band,” specifically. Still, the article on Segall referenced a late change to his style, so I thought maybe he’s drawing closer to an inspiration, musically.

I pulled up two (just) Ty Segall albums, Reverse Shark Attack and Horn the Unicorn. I think Ty (can I call him Ty?) came closest to capturing the experimental/space/acid rock vibe of Hawkwind with "Fuzz War" (eh) on Slaughterhouse and the title track for “Reverse Shark Attack” (better). These are long (nearly 10 minute), tempo/mood-shifting pieces that suggest a kind of epic arc (where one might not exist; didn’t sit with those for terribly long), and, face it, hostile to a broad audience.

The songs that connected to me on those albums, and Slaughterhouse, though, fit the “Genres” that show up in Ty Segall’s Wikipedia page – e.g garage rock, lo-fi, garage punk (maybe; plus a couple others) – and that’s where he hits me. Ty Segall records with (my understanding of) heavy reverb and he possesses a sophisticated understanding of what a specific sub-set of guitar-rock aficionados fall for – a wall-of-sound experience that’s at once buzzing and droning, but that keeps a cutting edge in the sound. Ty Segall loves guitar, but he never, ever just takes off and noodles. He does long interludes, for sure, but those feel less like solos (e.g., a spotlight moment for one band member) than interludes (a quasi-classical tempo/mood shift where the whole band shift gears).

For me, Horn the Unicorn is the best thing I’ve heard from Ty Segall. It took just five songs for me to drag it into a playlist and I'm about to make myself sick of the whole damn album by overplaying it into the ground; if any part of you likes lo-fi/garage, you’ll like most of it. Reverse Shark Attack is a little more complicated in that only a couple songs really connected (“Ramona” and “Take Up Thy Stethoscope,” and “Reverse Shark Attack” really feels like something one could spend days on without really sorting it out). I didn’t hate the rest or anything, and it’s not that they won’t grow on me (assuming I ever listen to them again; super busy), but they didn’t stick in my notes and I assume that’s for a reason. For all my indie leanings, I’m still very much a “pop” guy, which means that my deviations from the norm have a permanent tendency to check over their shoulders for some “home” point of reference.

Getting back to Slaughterhouse, as with everything in this project, I’m here to talk about the stuff I actually own – e.g. Slaughterhouse. So, what’s good on there? Though the mood is generally “amped” through all the songs, I guess the thing I appreciate most about Ty Segall – or the Ty Segall Band – is his ability to get so many different tones within his genre – e..g. guitar-heavy rock. He shifts between the sticky glam metal of “Wave Goodbye” on Track 6 to the short mid-60s pop of “Muscle Man” on Track 7. If I had to pick the album’s emblematic song…the weird thing is, I Bought My Eyes feels like an outlier. “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Mind” – a straight-up garage rocker – feels like the center. And, to pick up something way the hell up there, “Fuzz War” feels a little like Segall letting off creative steam. And I think he likes that, so there’s another angle for the curious.

So, no, the Hawkwind thing isn’t utterly perverse. I can think of a bunch of bands that sound closer to the Ty Segall Band (and Ty Segall in general) than Hawkwind. T. Rex, for one. And Segall did do a T. Rex cover album (totally happened; titled Ty Rex). If you do the garage – or even the lo-fi, garage punk – thing, let this be an introduction to Ty Segall. He’s good.

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