Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: Ty Segall - Sleeper

Ty Segall’s father died late last year. Cancer took him. In the aftermath, Ty had some sort of serious disagreement with his mother, and he severed their relationship. In order to maintain some semblance of family, he moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where his sister lives. The king of San Francisco garage rock suddenly found himself in a new home away from his kingdom. To make sense of his new surroundings, his irrevocably altered family life, and death, he put down his electric guitar and picked up an acoustic one, on which he wrote exactly ten songs. There were no outtakes.

The result is Sleeper, Segall’s eleventh album in five years. And after ten albums of fuzz and feedback and squalling guitars, it’s a testament to his songwriting that not only did he not lose his identity when he removed all of those factors, he actually strengthened and stretched that sound in some of the most exciting ways of his career so far.

The opening title track drifts in through a haze of ambient feedback and quietly sets the tone for the entire record. The lyrics, as can be expected from Segall, are basic without being boring, and he’s able to imbue a line like “oh sleeper, my dreamer/ I dream a dream for you” with a weight that not many garage musicians have been able to since the days of the Troggs. From there he manages to do a lot with a very small sonic palette. A twisted psychedelic acoustic solo ends “The Keepers,” while “Come Outside” gives him the opportunity to do an acoustic take on the heaviness of Slaughterhouse (that “Come Outside” is one of the only songs on the record with any percussion—a hand drum—certainly helps matters there). Any fears that he might become overly precious with an acoustic guitar need look no further than “6th Street,” which proves that the dissonant streak that he displayed on Slaughterhouse is still alive and well.

Meanwhile, the end of “The Man Man” features the only electric guitar on the whole record, and it’s an incredible solo, ratcheting up the intensity for one brief moment before things become relatively placid again. And even without electric guitar Segall is able to channel one of his heroes, Marc Bolan, on “Sweet C.C.” Even a half-formed song like “Crazy” (which is about Segall’s mother and which he claims was recorded in one take) sounds like a half-remembered dream fragment.

But the heart of the record can be found in the album’s middle and end. “She Don’t Care” is one of Segall’s crowning achievements so far. The song’s sentiments are close to those on “Crazy,” but he trades in that song’s spare arrangement for a gorgeous string-driven melody, and the violin gets to take the solo instead of Segall’s guitar. It’s a gorgeous, melancholy song, and it feels more naked and more exposed than anything he has done before.

“Queen Lullaby,” Sleeper’s penultimate song, feels like the end when it is sucked up by the same feedback that opened the album, but instead we are left with “The West,” a jaunty, sunny road song. “Where do I go home? Is it in the west?” He asks these questions early on and it seems like he might find the peace he is looking for in his home state of California. But then he answers his own question. His home is “at my father’s house,” and the sunny façade of the song crumbles. His father is dead, and his old home died with it. After all of that dreaming, he’s stuck with the same questions.

"She Don't Care"
"The Keepers"
"The West"

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