TONY BENNETT: Ty Segall’s ‘Manipulator’ may be his finest hour yet
“Garage Rock” is one of those genres that is ever-present, its sound and approach the focus of a revival that never has an end. No matter the era, there will always be young people who discover the power of the Sonics or Love or the Stooges, and they will pick up cheap guitars and fuzz pedals and attempt their own take on things. Ty Segall is one of the latest and best in a long line of garage-rockers to take up the mantle, and his new album, “Manipulator,” is perhaps his finest hour.
Segall, who has released a steady stream of records since his emergence in the late aughts both as a solo artist and with other projects, is a kind of natural. He’s able to capture the reckless, shambolic power of garage rock without sounding like some kind of jive throwback artist trying to seem “retro.” He seems sincere about it. But it’s a tough task, trying to fly the flag of the greats of scuzzy basement-style rock and roll — there’s been so much great stuff made in that language that the task is almost futile. Segall acquits himself nicely by focusing on the feel, on the tones, and on the approach as much as he does on the tunes. When his melodies and hooks aren’t able to touch the best of, say, the Flamin’ Groovies, he’s able to drop a killer guitar fuzz bomb that makes up the difference.
“Manipulator” has the distinction of being one of those Albums of the Moment, an LP that critics scramble to heap superlatives onto. It’s a next-phase Ty Segall album, the one that comes with an image makeover and quotes about how Segall really buckled down. Really, it’s kind of just the next chapter in his book of tunes, but it does have a coherence and clarity that some of his more meandering albums lacked.
The songs aren’t all knockouts. There are several that lack memorable choruses, or feel as if they’re not as developed in the vocal department as they could be. More than one song uses the same “New Pollution” Beck beat. But when things coalesce, it makes for some of the best rock of 2014.
The title track’s ballpark-rally organ and harmonized Thin Lizzy guitars is an early highlight, and the song shows off Segall’s skill for overdubs. A distortion blast here, layered falsettos there — he dresses his songs with what they need.
“The Singer” is one of the record’s best songs, a glittering dirge that comes off like a Queens of the Stone Age/Apples in Stereo/Oasis collaboration on Venus. Its chorus zooms into the stratosphere with trembling strings, Segall exhorting someone to “Sing louder,” and then everything drops out for a guitar solo that sounds like the first take of first takes.
The guitar is Segall’s real forte. Like Jack White, he’s no master, but he knows how to deploy shredded-speaker fuzz. And when he takes a solo, it can go from simple ’60s doublestops to all-out Sonic Youth cacophonic noise guitar at the drop of a hat.
So, even when Segall’s music is doing more to remind the listener of other, better songs and bands — try not to brain-sing the bridge to Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” over the bridge of “Feel” — he’s a torch-carrier that is hard not to like, especially when he’s able to write a grungy toe-tapper like “The Faker,” a 12-string acoustic riffer like “The Clock,” or a sludge-pop devastator like “The Crawler.”
Good stuff. In time, he might even write an album that can stand shoulder to shoulder with his influences. Until then, “Manipulator” is enough.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.