[In the Red; 2016]
Since emerging from the San Francisco music scene back in 2008, Ty Segall has released eight albums (not including his two albums with side-project Fuzz, a handful of EPs, and a collaborative album with White Fence). His workhorse output has resulted in a breadth of material that can become bewildering for avid fans. Despite every album having its highlights, there comes a point where much of his garage rock anthems begin to all sound the same. There are a couple of exceptions to this commonality: 2012’s Slaughterhouse was a nice, doomy side-track, and 2015’s Manipulator was a blatant and largely unsuccessful stab at glam rock. But for the most part, Ty Segall’s sound has remained the same for the better part of eight years.
Segall’s most recent release, Emotional Mugger, remains buoyed to his trademark fuzzed out guitars and infectious melodies, but the album as a whole has a jittery, neurotic persona in comparison to past work. At the risk of sounding cliche and corny, Mugger is Ty Segall’s music on crack due to the album’s frantic, spasmodic gallop and the unorthodox course that each track takes. The beats throughout are off-kilter and skittish, changing speed without much warning. “California Hills” is the most extreme example, starting at a plodding pace and ending with a quickly heightening acceleration, feeling like the song popped some uppers mid-track.
The addition of Wand members Evan Burrows and Cory Hanson to Segall’s line-up also adds to this frenetic mess, especially the latter whose guitar theatrics are a dominant character throughout the album. Every single track is dominated by the buzzing fly that is the high-pitched guitar licks, slightly off-key for the most part and always pestering the listener’s fever dream of a listen. Underneath this swarm of fret-board absurdity is always a discordant organ, shaking up an already discombobulated listen.
Amidst all this madness, Segall screeches and swoons with a voice that is one part Plastic Ono era John Lennon and one part Thin White Duke era David Bowie. Segall’s glam rock effort Manipulator may have been a wash, but it is clear that those experimentations helped shape the mix of sweet and sultry on Emotional Mugger. It’s a fitting blend for an album that explores the fruitless relationship an addict has with their “candy,” the place marker commonly used on the album. “Diversion” is a love song to cheap thrills with the addict’s mantra of “Diversion/ I’m back, I’m back, I’m back.” But by the end of the song, it’s obvious that it’s a one way relationship, leaving the user depressed and lonely, waiting for their diversion to return and give them that brief high once again.
“Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess” takes on the perspective of this brief escape, singing, “Like a bag of candy/ I’ll give you pleasure.” “Candy Sam” plays out like a modern day “Tambourine Man” with Segall beggin the “Candy Man” for “some fun,” only to be left depressed and alone once the candy supply has run dry. The best track on the album, “Mandy Cream,” exposes the passive aggressive, manipulative behaviors of an addict and lays it out for all to see. If Emotional Mugger is a rehabilitation album, then “Mandy Cream” is the intervention.
All of these elements in combination make for what might be Segall’s most cohesive album to date. References to “candy” and the “queen” help build a thread of narrative throughout, and the hysteric music only furthers the addiction fueled theme of the album. Overall it’s a wild listen that’s brief and fun, but it’s also a reminder that we all have our own candy (drugs, alcohol, food, sex, our phones!) that divert our attentions from what’s really important.