Ty Segall Gathers Bizarre Instruments and Makes a Marvelous Racket on ‘First Taste’
There are few figures in indie rock more restlessly creative and prolific than Ty Segall. Having turned out a new solo album nearly each year of the last decade, in addition to his works with numerous bands like Fuzz and Broken Bat, he seems to defy all odds by managing to keep things fresh. His latest record, “First Taste,” is a particularly bold move in a career already full of them. This time around, Segall has produced an indie rock album entirely devoid of guitars. Expectedly, there’s voice, piano, bass, and drums — but also bouzouki, koto, recorder, mandolin, harmonizer, electric omnichord, moog, and mouth horn — all played by Segall himself. As it this weren’t wild enough, Segall enlists long term drummer Charles Moothart to play another kit panned at the right end of the stereo mix, while he handles duties on the left side. The resulting flurry takes you by storm, and makes for an exciting flurry of fast, idea-rich songs. Compared to last year’s “Freedom’s Goblin,” which Segall described as “anti-theme,” the new recording is more focused, with the experimental proclivities channeled more into pointed novelties than whimsical detours. It’s also a lyrically darker affair, although with plenty shades in between, and music that eclipses the more dismal aspects with its frenetic excesses.
Opener “Taste” begins with a surge of fuzz and a pastiche of garage rock signifiers, letting you know instantly that you’re listening to Ty Segall. Segall has covered Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” live, and this song finds him reaching into those heavier proclivities, at moments letting out a Sabbath-esque growl. The double drumming onslaught adds a new dimension and energy, setting things promptly in drive, for the wild ride to come. Segall impressively references the whole rock ‘n’ roll timeline, and captures its eternal spirit, in an age when so many bands miss the mark, merely wearing retro adornments with the emperor’s new clothes. Rather at odds with the relentless energy of the music is the relative bleakness of the lyrics, which capture a certain conflicted ennui. Segall rattles out a series of actions, calling to the drudgery of daily routine, before building up to the realization that “salivating makes it all taste worse.” A striking inversion of the sentiment that “hunger is the best sauce,” it could be a guarded cry for Buddhism or a voicing of frustration at the ever-unresolved race between desire and satisfaction.
This unease grows more pointed on “Whatever,” essentially a song about servility, with the plea of “I’ll be whatever you want me to be” straddling the line between mocking rebellion and lamentation of tenuous self-identity. Sygall employs a quirky, off-kilter brass band, conjuring the likes of circus shows with tip-toeing carnies. With sax blasts, an off-key squelch that sounds just right, and sculpted feedback like whistling in haunted corridors, it’s a delightful, measured cacophony. “Ice Plant” finds Sygall channeling “Abbey Road”-era Beatles with angelic choral harmonies, over which he trades in his angsty howl for a softer belt. The short and sweet, sparse and unassuming arrangement comes as a well-received change of pace. The conflicting push and pull resurfaces in lyrics that “the sun… wants to go away / So it says, ‘Hello.’” This time, however, Segall finds solace in vivid nostalgic imagery about home, and ends in the serene declaration, “Let your love rain down on me.”
Still, these ideas seem a bit bittersweet in context, as affirmed in “The Fall,” which transitions into another rock stomper. Segall is one of few artists who successfully capture the energy of his live show. The madcap hodgepodge of instruments lets loose in the type of heroics traditionally reserved for guitars, sounding freshly stirring in their novel reimaginations. The frenzy continues on “I Worship the Dog,” which fits cryptic lyrics revisiting the themes of “Whatever” to buzzing, chainsaw-like sounds, as Segall intersperses his classic scream with a guttural growl that, at moments, echoes Marilyn Manson. All the signature elements are in place, along with enough novelty to make the song altogether new. Expanding the palette naturally, “The Arms” starts off as an instantly catchy, rustic jam, shifts abruptly into something of a British Invasion throwback, then circles back.
It’s hard not to appreciate the humor of a song titled “When I Met My Parents (Part 1)” turning out to be an instrumental jam. This brief, driving, busy stomp showcases the double drumming indulgence at its most powerful. Regarding whatever happened when Segall met his parents, you’d have to look to “I Sing Them,” as it functions as the teased second part. In a robust, wallowing chorus, Segall sings with abandon, embracing his most overtly hippie instincts, along with chimes of “la la” in a falsetto that celebrates its silliness like the Beatles’ “White Album” outtakes, which showed the fab four trying out different goofy voices and going to town with studio drivelry. A rebuttal to “Whatever,” the song finds Segall resolving, “I sing my song so I am free / I sing my song and sound like me.” The surge after the buildup comes upon “When I Met My Parents (Part 3.)” A chorus of “Close your eyes / Everything is just dreaming” comes moments in, like a final, cataclysmic revelation after much anticipatory drivelry.
On “Radio,” Segall rides over the clank and clammer in a carefree drawl, like a true master of poor enunciation. Think back to Weird Al’s lampooning of grunge in “Smells Like Nirvana,” in which he slurs, stammers, and gargles water at the mic. At any rate, let’s be honest — doesn’t rock music generally sound much better like this? The lyrics get into some synesthesia, with a refrain of “Watch the radio,” and lines about “choosing what I see.” Segall seems to be inching steadily toward some concept of moldable reality, which becomes more explicit on “Self Esteem” in lyrics like “I lie / It’s my truth” and “My memories change.” The song constructs a giddy singalong out of a frenetic 5/8 beat, and launches into thrilling, devilish drops. Segall has long liked to play with odd time signatures and technical acrobatics, usually the domain of alienating art rock, metal nerdery, and jazz pretensions. In Segall’s case, the music is so primal in its loud, youthful immediacy that it steers clear of the common associated pitfalls. In fact, the occasional oddball trickery comes so naturally in the flurry of snappy, energetic bangers that it only registers in retrospect, a mark of a savvy songwriter.
The album runs like a whirlwind, leaving you in awe of how so many wild ideas were crammed into such a short running time. The final track, “Lost Cowboys,” starts with sluggish strumming, as if naturally worn from the preceding fervor, but a few moments in, he band bursts into a jubilant romp. There are the rustic touches, the horn blasts, the ‘60s inflections, the wheezing esoteric instruments — as if the whole album were condensed for an encapsulation to neatly sum up the brisk affair. Segall keeps the lyrics cryptic and ends on a tone of simultaneous empowered resolve and lingering alienation. The pointed but scattered stabs in the dark are elegantly restrained, and leave plenty of food for thought, while the overall festivity that the music assumes in its sheer energy offsets the darker undertones. Ty Segall never seems to show signs of tiring, and it makes one wonder how long he can mine the greater garage rock lexicon for satisfying material. Fortunately, “First Taste” should relieve you of any such concerns. The radically original ensemble assembled for this record imbues the songs with new lustre, and adds fresh vitality to the works of an ever-fertile imagination.
“First Taste” is available Aug. 2 on Apple Music.