A Ty Segall album without any guitar on it sounds like it would be about as good as a plate of spaghetti without sauce or meatballs. It sounds like it would be a banana split with no ice cream. It sounds like it would be like a waterpark with no running water. Of course, Ty Segall being Ty Segall, he pulls it off, the madman.
“First Taste” is the latest from the hyperproductive Segall, who releases at least an album a year, but it's the first time he has strayed from his main instrument for an entire project. Heck, even the Fuzz records he drums on are slathered in distorted, ugly guitars. Here, he tries out all manner of stringed things: there's the bouzouki, the koto, and the mandolin, among others. There's whacked-out-sounding keyboards. Horns. Some kind of flute thing. Almost every song features two drummers — one of whom is Segall — going berserk. It's everything but the kitchen sink, minus the guitar. Plus the kitchen sink.
It seems like it would be a recipe for a novelty album. But, somehow, Segall has managed to make a very Ty Segall album using very non-Ty Segall elements. Truthfully, this reviewer didn't even realize that there was no guitar on the record until an Entertainment Weekly interview with the artist pointed out that fact. Sure, it's a different type of record. Clearly, there is a lot of experimentation going on, here — the sounds are heavily treated and there are a lot of non-traditional tones happening — but the fact that “First Taste” is completely guitarless is a shocker.
Of course, there's a lot of heavy bass guitar. A song like “The Fall” is a crusher mostly because the drum-solo-trading rhythm section is a pummeling beast on that number. Whatever the instruments are that are playing the high, pitch-shifted, guitarlike parts, the fact is that this is rock music through and through. “I Worship the Dog” is heavy, even though it's filled with '60s psych organs and shakers and prominently features something that sounds like a kazoo. The key is that the song is still very Segall — bashing drums, aggressive bass, demented vocals, and distorted things all over the place. Segall so often treats his guitars with so many effects, they sound like they're disintegrating. When he does the same with other instruments, the effect is still much the same.
Segall's poppier side is also well-represented, here. “The Arms” is played on the bouzouki (presumably), but with drums and bass and Segall's vocal, it just sounds like a good acoustic-rock song. “I Sing Them” is even better — it's a sort of cousin to “The Singer” off his “Manipulator” album, but a bit more personal. “I sing my songs and sound like me,” Segall asserts. “I'd rather sound like me than try to sing your melody.” It's a let-your-freak-flag-fly anthem, just pocket-sized.
The joy of “First Taste” is largely in just watching the man at work, though. “Taste” is a good tune, but the jabbing drum rhythms and scuzz-drenched keyboards and Santana congas are where it's at. “When I Met My Parents, Pt. 3” isn't so much a song as it is an excursion into “Tomorrow Never Knows” territory. Speaking of The Beatles, when he leaves all the instrumentation on the table on “Ice Plants” to take a stab at a “Because” homage, it's not as gorgeous as that (duh), but it's still very cool and fits in with the other songs on the record, even though it hardly resembles the rest of it at all.
It's honestly starting to look like Ty Segall isn't capable of making bad music. The guy can abandon his main instrument and still create art that stands up to the rest of his catalog just fine. “First Taste” is just more great rock and roll from one of its best proponents.
Tony Bennett reviews albums for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artist: Ty Segall
Album: "First Taste”
Produced by: Ty Segall
Personnel: Ty Segall (vocals, instruments), other guests