Diamonds in the Dust: Ty Segall is the psychedelic reincarnate the world needs

Diamonds in the Dust is a weekly study of the criminally neglected; songs, albums and entire genres swept under the rug by a lack of media attention, misunderstandings or simply being too ahead of its time.

Every year, the British media hand picks another “savior” for rock and roll’s supposed dying cause. Whether it’s the return of a brit-pop alumnus like Noel Gallagher or a new deafening duo like Royal Blood, music publications from across the pond will always find a band to deify and market into forced relevance.

The thing is, rock isn’t dead and never has been. Its slow decline from major pop-culture importance can actually be looked at as a good thing. Less of an audience means less money grubbing faux-rockers looking for their 15 minutes of fame. Essentially, taking the mainstream out of rock music has given the genuine artists far more room to grow and gain the success they deserve — even if it’s on a smaller scale.

The deflation of rock music’s cast has also pushed out most major record label presences. Artists are now allowed to experiment and expand in ways like the genre’s ‘50s to '70s ancestors. It isn’t here yet, but a rock revolution could be on the horizon.

And if a coup were to conjure, a man like Ty Segall could lead the charge.

Segall’s last few years have been remarkably prolific. Since 2008, every year has seen a Segall solo album. He has also released handfuls of singles and EPs, collaborated with several other bands and is on tour relentlessly. The kicker to all of this is his age — he’s only 28.

A large part of Segall’s fruitfulness stems in part from his cherrypicking of ideas from psych and noise rock artists of the past. In other words, he’s less of an innovator and more of a revivalist. I wouldn’t call this a bad thing per se, but I have definitely never listened to a Segall project and heard something unfamiliar.

In 1968, Tomorrow, a long-abandoned psych band, released an excellent self-titled record. Unfortunately, the critical acclaim and support from legendary radio DJ John Peel couldn’t muster a large enough audience to sustain the band.

Regardless, album opener “My White Bicycle” is a kaleidoscopic blend of backwards guitars, bizarre lyrics and melodic force. The rest of the record fades in and out of lo-fi fuzz and clear-cut acoustics. It’s unclear to me if this contrast is purposeful or just the product of bad recording, but Segall often utilizes the same effects in his work.

While Segall’s EP “Goodbye Bread” is crushed beneath walls of reverb and fuzz, his more recent track “Mr. Face” demonstrates a fondness for the acoustic side of psych. Tomorrow’s song “Hallucinations” follows a similar trajectory, leading with a lighter moment and finishing in a full-on jam.

Continuing his legacy of borrowing, Segall’s side project Fuzz infuses bits of proto-punk into his sound. The Blue Cheer influence is blatant here, especially on “Sleigh Ride” which is a dangerously raucous reworking of “Summertime Blues.” Blue Cheer’s lineage is often coincided with heavy metal, but you can hear its impact throughout Segall’s catalog, too.

Take Segall’s 2014 sprawling double-album “Manipulator” and you’ll find a bevy of influences. “The Singer” feels like the glammed-out ghost of T Rex’s Marc Bolan is living vicariously through it while “The Clock” could have been a B-side on Love’s “Forever Changes.”

Another well-documented influence of Segall’s is Hawkwind, an eccentric collective of musicians that has weaved through countless lineup changes, style shifts and dozens of album releases. There’s no real way to pinpoint specific moments in Segall’s music that pull from Hawkwind because of this vastness, however he’s mentioned in plenty of interviews that it’s there.

In 1970, Hawkwind’s self-titled debut blazed trails in the realm of space rock, fueling an ascent into cosmic soundscapes, galactic freak outs and a direct flight path into Ty Segall’s future brain. If you want to delve deeper into the mind of the prodigal song writer, undertaking Hawkwind’s colossal discography may be the project for you — although I’d definitely recommend starting with its debut.

To be frank, I could write endlessly about Segall and where he seems to draw the most inspiration from. At 28 years old, he has as much material to analyze as some of the most important musicians ever to record an album. I could probably write a full article just describing the bands that are influenced by him.

So, ignore the British music media like the manic preachers on the street they are and jam some Ty Segall. He just might convince you that rock and roll doesn’t need saving, it needs a leader.

Related Links:

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Diamonds in the Dust: Comparing Kanye West and EDM to latin dance music and gangsta rap


Contact the reporter at nlatona@asu.edu or follow @Bigtonemeaty on Twitter.

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