Ty Segall’s ‘Manipulator’ responds to low garage rock entry barrier

(Photo Courtesy of Ty Segall)

(Photo Courtesy of Drag City)

Over the course of his career, Ty Segall has been a man of many faces.

He began as a one-man band way back in 2008. Eleven of the 12 albums Segall released feature album artwork with a face, the lone exception being 2008’s “Horn The Unicorn.” In most instances, that face is his own, appearing as distorted as the music.

His latest offering, “Manipulator,” is no exception — Segall once again graces the cover, appearing windswept and larger than life.

That divine stature was not earned overnight or without serious effort. In 2012 alone, Segall released three albums: “Hair,” “Slaughterhouse” and “Twins.”

2013 saw the release of the acoustic album “Sleeper.” Segall picked up the sticks to drum and sing for the humorously titled project, “Fuzz.” This project released four seven-inch records, an eponymous full-length album and a live LP, with the LP coming from Castle Face’s Live from San Francisco series.

“Manipulator” is the first album released under Segall’s name in a year, and his first release of any type in 2014.

In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Segall said, “There was this mad dash of work that happened with me and my friends for a couple of years. Like, ‘Man, we’ve been given this opportunity, and who knows how long it’s going to last, so let’s make a ton of records.’ Then, there just comes a point where you realize it’s going to be all right to take a minute and really focus.”

Segall has finally found a minute to catch his breath and to slow down, and the result is his best album to date. Every style that he has experimented with over the past six years is present, woven perfectly into the fabric of the album.

“Manipulator” is simultaneously the heaviest album Segall has ever released and the least distorted. By peeling off layers of fuzz and focusing more on the technical aspects of the songs and their rhetorical value, the album establishes a dark psychedelic atmosphere — an all-encompassing wave of minor chord progressions tied together by tight & dry production.

The overall tonality of “Manipulator” is predicated by the musicianship and high production value. The drums are more complex and far tighter than before. The production is heightened to an unheard of level for historically lo-fi Segall — a response to the low barrier of entry into the music scene that personal computers have created.

Until recently, Segall’s career has been defined by the era in which he began releasing music. Circa 2008, there was an inundation of fuzzed out garage music being produced in San Francisco. Through his prolific output, Segall, amongst others such as Thee Oh Sees, quickly established themselves as the front-runners in a crowded marathon.

It appears as though rank alone was not enough of a distinction for Segall. For “Manipulator,” Segall ditched his long-time producer Eric “King Riff” Bauer to take the reins himself.

In lieu of fuzz, the listener is treated to an album that is obviously structured to demonstrate the virtuosity of its creator. Seven of the 17 tracks on the mammoth double LP begin with at least a measure of primal kraut-rock gone glam drum beats, often to be joined by an equally as impressive bass line.

The breakdown in “Feel” is a perfect example of the type of grandstanding that fills “Manipulator.” Tracks like “Mister Main” and “Green Belly” showcase a side of Segall that is much more mellow, but equally as distinctively Segall. The former could be a mistaken for a Radiohead song circa “In Rainbows,” an unheard of compliment for a Segall song.

The songs on “Manipulator” that are centered on acoustic elements are unlike those of the aformentioned “Sleeper” in that they have significantly more intent and direction.

That being said, the distortion is not all gone. Tracks like “The Faker,” “The Crawler” and “Susie Thumb” are all characteristically Segall, yet significantly improved by the heightened attention to production.

 

Reach the reporter at jpbohan@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Jordan_Bohannon