Sun August 17, 2014
First Listen: Ty Segall, 'Manipulator'
Originally published on Wed August 27, 2014 2:56 pm
It's a shame that the rock record of the summer had to surface at the end of the season. Bay Area pop craftsman Ty Segall, who recently relocated to Los Angeles, has issued a parting gift to San Francisco that's more infectious and memorable than any of the hundred-plus tracks he'd cut in his past few years as a solo artist. Segall's masterful new double-album Manipulator is a gift to established fans and new audiences alike, and it's bound to push him to another level altogether. You don't need familiarity with the dozen-plus albums in Segall's discography to appreciate what he's done here.
Segall is known for banging out new records in a day or two, but with Manipulator he had a full month of studio time with producer Chris Woodhouse (Thee Oh Sees, !!!, Wild Flag). All the flourishes you'd expect from that sort of investment — string sections, lush arrangements, percussion breakdowns — are present, but they don't overpower the music. Really, they couldn't; Segall has never written a batch of songs more neatly engineered to fit together. The result is a lush and panoramic collection loosely based on a concept about the characters you meet on your way up, when they're happy to see you and have the world to offer, just before the bottom falls out.
He gets the more difficult material out of the way first, including the '60s psych-imbued title track and the abstract fuzz-strum/free-love storm of "Tall Man Skinny Lady." These set the pace for the explosion to follow. The rest of the record builds off the potential of these tracks, each of which boasts a can't-miss riff and an enormous arrangement to get you amped for what comes next. Segall isn't the first guy to dig deep into the candy-plastic design of the best glam rock, but the music on Manipulator seems to effortlessly call to mind both T. Rex and early-'70s David Bowie (particularly in "The Clock"), putting him well ahead of the curve from the beginning.
Manipulator also recalls the way some of the best '90s bands captured that era while making their own timeless records for the canon. Segall's upper register makes his voice a dead ringer for that of Suede's Brett Anderson, and Manipulator showcases the mysterious swagger of that group's classic debut. The distortion monster "It's Over" channels Blur at its catchiest, while "The Feels" captures the same arena-ready, world-takeover notions that powered Oasis through its early successes. This doesn't seem like an accident; the entire cycle of 17 songs gets stronger as the record goes on, piling on excess without feeling excessive. Manipulator may have missed its chance to provide the soundtrack to a summer that desperately needed one, but that just means it gets to be the feel-good hit of the fall.