Last week, Ty Segall's magnificent third solo album celebrated ten years of existence. To commemorate this garage-rock triumph, Martin Douglas has decided to reevaluate one of his favorite records of the 2010's.
Long before settling into a very productive career as one of underground(-ish) rock music’s brightest and most singular talents, Ty Segall was a child surfer, a self-described teenage drunk, a foil for for the unscripted MTV series that made his hometown of Laguna Beach a rich kid punchline instead of the haven for hippies and artists he knew it as -- he and his friends used to throw water balloons at camera crews to combat boredom. He was a record store regular, playing music in bands (like Episilons, with longtime friend and sometime collaborator Mikal Cronin, a very talented musician in his own right).
After moving north to San Francisco for college, Segall quickly became a fixture in the city’s quickly growing and historically weird garage-rock scene, playing in damn near half a dozen bands as well as writing and recording his own songs. As legend has it, psych/garage/art-punk lynchpin John Dwyer -- at this point in time, a longtime San Francisco resident -- caught a Traditional Fools set and saw their drummer play with a stick lodged in his cast, pounding away at his kit with a fractured arm. This was around the time Segall serendipitously ended up playing the first of his one-man band sets, clubbing his way through fairly rudimentary but super fun garage-rock songs on guitar and drums simultaneously.
Dwyer’s delight seeing a very young Segall playing his distinctive strain of garage-punk resulted in his (first) self-titled solo record, released on Dwyer’s Castle Face Records and again on cassette through vaunted garage label Burger Records. After earning a degree in media studies, Segall -- born to an artist and a drummer in 1987 -- continued to play music and built hydroponic grow shelves almost a decade before cannabis was legalized in California. Although much of his early solo work up to Lemons, his debut LP for Goner Records, was steeped in the caveman stomp tradition belonging to the garage-rock subgenre, Segall was assuredly finding his voice as a classicist rock and roll songwriter.
For his third solo album in 18 months, Segall enlisted the engineering prowess of Eric Bauer -- a fruitful collaboration ongoing to this day -- and the musical talents of a solid handful of friends to create somewhat of an anti-masterpiece, an unforgettable collection of cracked, off-center rock and pop tunes recorded mostly on the first take.
Album titles don’t often spell out what a record is about musically, but it’s tough to point out a description more apt than Melted when listening to Segall’s breakout third solo record. It sounds like a weed-fried singer/songwriter crafting songs and leaving them to sit outside for weeks during the kind of California summer that starts forest fires. Segall himself has taken pride during interviews in how fucked up it all sounds.
The case falls well in point at the very beginning, with the opening chords of “Finger.” The song starts with guitar plus vox, Segall harmonizing the song’s chorus with himself; it seems foreboding, almost haunting to a degree. Distortion splits the song into two and it continues as an early Sabbath-esque ripper resplendent with 60’s psych-pop harmonies, the latter of which show back up on the blown-out bubblegum of “Sad Fuzz.” A love of vintage pop-rock shines through on Melted, endlessly and favorably compared to the Beatles and the Kinks.
Segall blends his affinity for melody with the wild-eyed punk kid of his youth, occasionally ravaging his vocal chords and making unintelligible noises to signal instrumental passages. His voice nestles underneath the trebly din of noise poking through every second of music. “Girlfriend” and “My Sunshine” are loud, bratty love songs about the canine tendencies of men and the rush of a significant other who won’t think twice about letting you borrow their car, perfect for blasting out of convertibles moving at 80mph in the California sun.
For all its blaring, catchy bonafides, Melted is augmented by weird musical flourishes fitting right at home at the forefront of the early 2010’s SF garage scene. The aforementioned “Finger” ends with a noise box which sounds like a ray gun with a dying battery, supplied by Sic Alps shredder Mike Donovan, who also invites us to drink Coca-Cola with him on the quiet rumble of “Mike D’s Coke.” “Caesar,” with its allusions to backstabbers, contains both a rousing piano solo and a spacey flute part on its back end (the latter played by Dwyer). “Bees” is an languid psych number deteriorating into weirdness and ending with one of the great non-sequiturs of its era: “I’M ON DRUGS, LEMMY FROM MOTORHEAD GAVE ‘EM TO ME!”
“Imaginary Person” sounds like a Jay Reatard 45 played at 33rpm (with its pitch magically held intact), while the album’s title track is a stomper marked with nearly entirely illegible words. On Melted, Segall experiments with a host of songwriting structures and warps them at will to match the decor of a garage studio overflowing with discarded instruments and equipment, swamp person drawings, and half-eaten candy still in the wrappers. “Ceasar” and “Alone,” the latter feeling like a lazy Saturday at high noon, are augmented by shifts in tempo, adding to the album’s unpredictable, slapdash feel.
“Mrs.” is a murder ballad set on the banks of the Mississippi River, its drifter protagonist on the run and seeking “a couple dollars, a place to stay.” In the ensuing decade, it seems as though the art of the murder ballad has all but disappeared in favor of indie-rock musicians wanting to appear as nonthreatening as possible rather than shifting perspectives and stepping into the shoes of villainous characters to enhance their storytelling. Maybe that’s for the best, but “Mrs.” still stands as one of Segall’s most lyrically intriguing songs, a portrait of a man who does something horrific, is consumed by self-denial and eventually guilt, and plunges himself into one of the continental United States’ largest bodies of water as a measure of atonement.
Is it fair to call Melted an unintentional classic? It’s safe to say most artists don’t jump into the recording of an album with the express consideration of building a monument, especially one who would release nine full-lengths in four years. Artists tend to chip away at their craft, capturing a moment in time which will or won’t stand the test of time as an essential document. Melted is decidedly low-stakes, turning into the early career highlight of a protracted stay as a songwriter by sheer force of personality and a fucking incredible ear. It is a portrait of the artist finding the right vehicle for his authorial voice and riding it until the wheels fall off.
Ty Segall is like the American Horror Story of rock 'n' roll. The now-LA based maniacal, musical polymath constantly reinvents while rotating a cast of characters around a shifting approach to one theme: to rock the living shit out of you. Though his latest album - and what we can assume to be ju...
If you'd been following the prolific career of Bay Area musician Ty Segall, you might have been surprised when he was announced to perform Pickathon earlier this year. But the 26-year-old Bay Area musician, whose discography is as labyrinthine as an 80's record contract, and whose most recent rec...