Ty Segall Freedom’s Goblin

[Drag City; 2018]

Styles: garage rock, psychedelic rock, woah-dude-core
Others: Thee Oh Sees, Meatbodies, White Fence, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

The astonishing productivity of garage-rock hellraiser Ty Segall has by now become something of an in-joke, one that he himself acknowledges. Before moving to L.A. in 2014, Segall was associated with an enthralling cadre of Bay Area garage-rock musicians, among them The Fresh And Onlys, Thee Oh Sees, Kelley Stoltz, and Sic Alps (of whom Segall was a member at one point). Such groups once constituted a fertile, mutually beneficial scene, of which only vestigial traces now remain, largely owing to the exigencies of Silicon Valley’s expansion. Segall has never been one to remain creatively or physically static, and this new double album makes use of the ancillary talents of backing musicians the Freedom Group to forge one of his most sprawling, ambitious efforts yet — which really is saying something.

Segall’s sound is by now well codified: a heady cocktail of West Coast garage, 1970s glam rock, and oracular psychedelia. For his fans, Segall is that rare breed of musician who can yield seemingly endless permutations of a single style without ever sounding stale. From 2014’s Bowie love letter Manipulator to the deformed garage-punk oddities of 2016’s Emotional Mugger, he’s proven how he can continually recapitulate a core sound and not make it seem perfunctory. In doing this, he pursues a similar recording philosophy to garage-psych peers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, wherein creative fecundity is raised to near-pathology. To date, he’s released nine albums — along with a host of EPs and collaborative side projects — with a consistent level of quality that’s as impressive as it is baffling.

Freedom’s Goblin finds Segall at ease within his established aesthetic to the point of giddiness. Album opener “Fanny Dog,” for example, is an anthemic tribute to his dog, Fanny. Tracks like “When Mommy Kills You” and “5 Ft Tall” are showcases of Segall’s compositional strengths — the casual marriage of buzzsaw garage guitars to a power-pop sensibility for the assuaging power of melody. He doesn’t so much wear his influences on his sleeve as parade them through the street with banners and floats. Most of the time this comes across as charming, like on the irresistible Big Star-via-T. Rex stroll of “My Lady’s On Fire.” He even attempts a cover of “Every 1’s a Winner,” Hot Chocolate’s saucy funk standard.

In recent years, Segall has taken to subtly modifying what his audience has come to expect, by either incorporating leftfield elements or simply magnifying his standard approach to a point of disorder. The seedy, faux-disco rhythm of “Despoiler of Cadaver” is a little strange, but it doesn’t sound out of place. Similarly, the fuzzy blitz of mid-album track “Meaning” is only intensified by the presence of Segall’s wife, Denée, on vocals. “The Main Pretender” is invigorating, but barely holds together, as a saxophone’s oscillating screech (courtesy of longtime collaborator Mikal Cronin) presages a surging guitar/vocal hook. Meanwhile, tracks like “Cry Cry Cry” and “You Say All The Nice Things” offer a languishing, 60s pop stillness that acts as a palliative counterpart to the fervor that defines the rest of the record.

Sometimes more is just excess, however, and filling a double album with this style can feel superfluous if you’re not a Segall superfan. There’s an indulgent stretch about three-quarters of the way through that could easily have been tapered a little. While striking, it gives off the impression of a Frank Zappa tribute night that’s unwittingly spiraled out of control. For listeners who enjoy that sort of thing, though, all the theatrics are arguably justified by the dazzling closer, “And Goodnight.” Here Segall takes the outline of the opening track from his 2013 record Sleeper and transmutes it into a lurching, 12-minute behemoth. Sleeper was one of the more notable departures from Segall’s songwriting principles, a work of brittle, pensive folk, perforated throughout by hallucinatory impulses. “And Goodnight” is its histrionic inverse: an old track becoming itself through its own thundering negation.

If you’ve heard a Ty Segall album before, then not much on Freedom’s Goblin will surprise you. Though, if you’ve heard a Ty Segall album before, chances are you’ll want to hear how in the damn fuck does this guy already have another album recorded. Goblin is simultaneously a patchwork project and a genealogy of Segall’s influences, operating on a confidence that’s as emphatic as it is earned. Then again, when you reach a level like Segall’s, freedom has a different logic.

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