In the indie rock underground, there always seems to be one person who, in unspoken agreement, is viewed as the leader of the scene. For many years, that person was Jack White of The White Stripes fame.
However, as White has transitioned to mainstream fame, the underground has looked for a new person to champion. In White’s vacancy, many contenders have tried to take the throne, but the front-runner is Californian musician Ty Segall.
Like White, Segall plays a similar brand of fuzzy garage rock influenced by the blues, but Segall also blends in influences from ‘60s classic rock and psychedelic rock music, as well as punk and proto-punk influences. What truly sets Segall apart from the others who would like to spearhead the underground rock scene, is his prolific output. Since 2008, he has put out seven solo albums in addition to his work with bands such as Fuzz and Ty Segall Band, among others.
In part of his claim to the indie rock throne, Segall has released his most detailed and longest album yet, “Manipulator.” Having previously never listened to a Segall record, but having heard much fervent fanfare for him, I was excited to delve into this new record.
The seventeen songs on the album typically alternate every one or two songs between full electric instrumentation and a blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation, with the rare fully acoustic tracks adding a nice reprieve from the fuzz. Manipulator starts out with the heavily psych influenced title track, which sets the tone for the album stylistically, with its fuzzy wall of guitars, fun vocal melody, harmonized guitar leads and blasts of noise.
Most of the tracks on Manipulator are all similarly well crafted, but even with the strong tracklist, there are some songs that stand above. “Tall Man Skinny Lady” with its catchy vocal melody, blended instrumentation and lo-fi outro is a definite first half highlight.
“Susie Thumb” is the most upbeat song and the album and provides a much-needed burst of energy to the back half of the record; musically the song has a strong punk influence and has one of the best guitar solos on the entire record.
“The Clock”, despite its tacky classic rock guitar riff, manages to be the best acoustic song on the album, with the lyrics offering poignant meditation on time and some beautiful orchestral strings. “Feel” is also a highlight, boasting a heavy metal tinged chord progression, soaring vocal melody and bombastic drum solo.
Despite all of “Manipulator’s” merits, it is not without its flaws. Segall’s songwriting can get somewhat formulaic, with a predictable verse/chorus/verse/chorus/guitar solo song structure appearing on most of the tracks.
His pseudo-British accent can get grating, and his falsetto is slightly over utilized. Also, all of the tracks have similar guitar tones and run around the same tempo, which, for an album with a fifty-minute run time, can make for an exhausting listening experience on the weaker back half of the record.
Overall, “Manipulator” is a solid effort that has some stellar songs, but I feel that it misses the mark. Simply put, the project is bloated and would have benefitted from some revision and scaling back.
However, with such an ambitious and consistent project under his belt, I am eager to hear what Segall will offer on his next record.