In Being John Malkovich, Craig and Lotte Schwartz – played by John Cusack and Cameron Diaz, respectively – find a portal that takes them inside the mind of the great actor. If such a portal existed and we could travel inside Ty Segall‘s mind, what would we find? More importantly, what would we learn inside the 28-year old psychedelic / garage-rock prince? His mind must be an endless stream of ideas and concepts. It’s the only way to explain how Segall can release 2 or 3 albums a year, either as a solo artist or with one of his side projects, such as Fuzz. And we haven’t even accounted for his role as a producer, where he’s worked with White Fence, or a supporting musician to good friend Mikal Cronin.
The mystery that is Ty Segall added a surprising turn in 2014 when he released his masterful Manipulator, an album that was included on numerous “Best of” Lists. It showcased a new Segall, one who was more attentive to the entire songwriting and production process. The songs on Manipulator were no longer the brief injections of hyper-energized, psychedelic rock that we had become accustomed to. The songs now extended to three and even past five minutes in duration. They retained Segall’s trademark, fuzzed-filled psychedelic and garage-rock sound, but each track was anthemic and rich in harmonies and melodies.
Segall could have continued down this same path for his latest album, Emotional Mugger, but he’s opted to throw us another curveball. On album #10, Segall shares a bleaker side of his mind. The songs are a little darker. The music is filled with more fuzz, static, and reverb. While the album is still founded on garage rock principles, Segall blends in drone-rock, industrial, experimental, and math-rock giving Emotional Mugger a dark, frenzied, and even slightly creepy vibe. Further adding to the effect is that Segall’s voice sounds distant throughout, as if he’s in another dimension.
In typical Segall fashion, we’re immediately introduced to this wild journey – fifteen seconds to be precise on “Squealer”, which is like something out of a trippier version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Things get more zany on “California Hills” and “Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess”. The latter melds the kaleidoscope psychedelia of the Plastic Ono Band and the experimental rock of Dirty Projectors, but with more fuzz of course. “Squealer Two” is the creepiest track. With Segall’s voice hitting pitches not heard from him before, the song could be the background music of an exorcism or another Chucky movie.
The album also has its fill of instrumentals. “Diversion” is the one track where Segall lets loose with the electric guitar, and it’s awesome. It fills the need to rock out. “Mandy Cream”, though, is unique. It’s chaotic, interspersing brief moments of silence with trippy guitar strumming and a heavy rock tone. “Candy Slam” adds to the confusion with its rambling approach. You almost feel like you are inside the mind of John Malkovich.
But it is the mind of Segall in which we are entrapped. Much like when Radiohead’s Amnesiac and Prince’s Controversy, Segall is finding new ways to amaze and confound us on Emotional Mugger. It won’t go down as Segall’s best, but it offers us a glimpse into another part of his world and into his genius, where he is still challenging us in the way we hear music. Now if we could only understand how he generates these ideas.
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