Whether this is your first or 20th taste of Segall, his latest is often thrilling, never boring and yes, a lot of fun.
Ebullient indie-garage-psych-rocker Ty Segall is known as much for the intensity of his performances as for his prolific recorded output, both solo and with several collaborative projects. On his latest, the ironically-titled First Taste, he is flanked by a formidable group of musicians including Charles Moothart on drums, Emmett Kelly on bass and Ben Boye on all manner of keys. Segall provides extensive instrumentation himself, and bouzouki and koto, among others, makes this an especially versatile and supple album. For new Segall listeners, this sonic range is an apt introduction to the eclecticism and vibrancy typical of his best work.
With riff and groove-based retro-inspired rock like this, the challenge is to overcome the prominence of one’s influences. Furthermore, singer-songwriters as talented as Segall can write a hundred songs in their sleep that are catchy, entertaining and fun to listen to at ear-splitting volumes. But in putting a premium on fun, novelty and endurance are sometimes sacrificed. Thankfully, the album for the most part side-steps these risks. There are occasional throwaways; “Whatever” is a fun romp but is somewhat formulaic, and “Lone Cowboys” has an odd twee-ness. But most songs pick apart and reinvent their influences, giving them a new, disarming eccentricity that is unique to Segall and his fellow musicians.
The fuzzed-out, dissonant and syncopated “I Worship the Dog,” for example, which features an echo-y horror movie spoken bit, rewards multiple listens and the effort to pick apart and inspect each part of its whimsical arrangement. A track such as the Beatlesque “Ice Plant,” with its “Because”-style vocal tracks, shows that Segall pens lyrics as ably as he writes riffs, and that he can be gentle and slightly surreal: “I see the yellow hair fell into the sea/ But I don’t care/ It said hello to me.” Even when he sings the next line, “Let your love rain down on me,” it doesn’t sound like a tribute to rock tropes but a kind of reappropriation, a test of sincerity that employs a familiar phrase to put it to renewed and reimagined use in a new context.
Elsewhere, Segall flexes his pop muscles with the mandolin-heavy “The Arms,” which combines acoustic instruments with electric to great effect. Then there’s the Townshend-worthy anthem, “I Sing Them”: “I’d rather sound like me than try to sing your melody…/ I sing my song so I am free.” But perhaps the most musically intriguing track is the sly and syncopated “Self Esteem,” where Segall’s more experimental and jazz-influenced side is indulged, leaving one wishing for more of the same.
First Taste is a misleading title for someone who has put out so many albums. But if this is your first taste of his growing catalog, it’s a more than suitable introduction to this young and prodigious talent. And he’s only 32. Whether this is your first or 20th taste of Segall, his latest is often thrilling, never boring and yes, a lot of fun.