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Artist: Ty Segall

Album: Ty Segall

Label: Castle Face

Review date: Feb. 20, 2009

Ty Segall is a one-man band. Not in the one-person, multi-tracked recording artist sense, but the old fashioned way. A drummer first, he sits behind an abbreviated kit, one foot on the kick drum pedal, the other pumping on a high hat with a tambourine attached. He can’t get too close to the pedals, however, because he’s got a guitar between his body and the drums, and he’s playing that, too. In fact, when he’s not using his strumming hand to slash out the rockabilly chords, he’ll sometimes reach over and slap the tambourine with his hand. He doesn’t seem to have a pair of drum sticks. Oh, and there’s a microphone dangling in front of him – probably not in the best of condition – to put the reverb’d echo onto his yelps, croons, howls and hiccups.

There is only so much that one man, two arms, two legs can do at one time. It’s no wonder then, that Segall’s songs are simple and loud. Instead of the full-on, all-instruments-all-the-time onslaught of a multi-person band, Segall swivels from one sound to another, in a kind of self-answering call and response. Scraps of lyrics are slipped in between fiery Chuck Berry-esque solos. The thump, thump, thump of bass drum anchors the rhythm, but you can’t expect any lengthy drum solos. Melodies are short and framed by twitching blasts of guitar. But in exchange for any loss of complexity, Segall offers crazy energy and intensity. Whether pounding out blues-damaged rockabilly of “Pretty Baby (You’re So Ugly)” or whistling through the darkness of shivery garage pop “Watching You,” Segall is 100 percent on, all the time.

Segall has been in and out of the Bay Area garage scene for the last several years, drumming and singing in the distortion-crazed, keyboard-happy Epsilons and just drumming in the surf-punk Traditional Fools. He sometimes plays the drums with Sic Alps. Like all these groups, he filters Nuggets-era garage pop through a wind tunnel of distortion and fuzz. “The Drag” might have been dug out of a vault from 1963, documenting a dance craze that never happened. And if the Electric Prunes cut all the verses from “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” and just sung the chorus, if they had recorded it with one broken mic in a 12’ x 12’ metal storage unit, then it might sound a bit like “You’re Not Me,” but not as good.

Garage rock, then is one main element to Segall’s sound. The other is jump blues, early R&B and rockabilly. Here, because of the one-man set-up, the insane energy and the dubious recording technology, the obvious comparison is Bob Log III. Like Log, Segall doesn’t fuss much over tone, emphasizing fury over finesse in his stripped down guitar barrages. And though he’s not singing through a mic in a motorcycle helmet, the vocals have a claustrophobic echo and clatter. With “Pretty Baby (You’re So Ugly),” Segall sounds like he’s being damn-near electrocuted as he yips and hollers, tambourine rattling, guitar burning a detuned hole through the manic beat. It only lasts about a minute, but what a minute it is.

The disc closes with the softly psychedelic “An Ill Jest,” just Segall and an acoustic guitar, singing demo-style like any number of one-man bedroom recording artists. It’s a very pretty song, proof that Segall could go the conventional songwriter route if he had the inclination. It’s not as bracing, though, as the rest of the album. That’s like putting your finger in an electrical outlet. It’ll make your hair smoke.

By Jennifer Kelly

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