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Ty Segall - Sleeper

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Artist: Ty Segall

Album: Sleeper

Label: Drag City

Review date: Aug. 26, 2013

Ty Segall - “Sleeper” (Live on KEXP)

Drag City’s promotional videos for garage-rock revivalist Ty Segall’s Sleeper paint Segall as a dozy slacker, a narcoleptic doofus who falls asleep in gardens and who needs to be slapped awake in order to tour. But that belies his fastidiously protestant work ethic: At just 26, Segall’s already released a half-dozen solo full-lengths, and even more collaborative efforts. Last year alone, Segall released three records, the last of which, Twins, was a near-perfect confluence of his variegated interests: skuzzy garage, hyperactive bubblegum punk, British flower child psych.

Really, if anyone was in need of a rest, it was Segall. But the 10 months between Twins and Sleeper were anything but restful. In December, Segall’s stepfather, to whom Segall was especially close, died. Shortly thereafter, Segall had a falling out with his mother, whom he says he’s no longer speaking to, and he moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to be closer to his younger sister.

Heavy stuff, to be sure. But Segall, ever a crafty songwriter, mined the personal upheaval for Sleeper, working through his complex emotions over a bed of intensely intimate acoustic psych-folk.

Largely bereft of Segall’s trademark garage stomp, the stripped acoustic numbers place a greater emphasis on his songwriting. An exceptionally able musical autodidact with a keen knack for indelible hooks, Segall sounds as if he’s immersed himself in 1960s British psych: “She Don’t Care” recalls the trippy kaleidoscopes of John Lennon’s work on Revolver; “The Man Man” bursts in its latter half into a Hunky Dory Bowie burner; “Queen Lullabye” explores the same fever-dream psychedelia Syd Barrett did.

Recorded over three months onto an old reel-to-reel recording machine, Sleeper feels nonetheless largely off-the-cuff, as if these are demo tapes for a fuzzier affair to come. The effect is charming in some places: the somnambulant blues of “Sixth Street,” for example, sticks despite its lack of adornment, mostly due to its in-the-moment vibe. But it’s hard not to imagine “Sweet C.C.” fleshed out in a full T. Rex stomp, the footstep-thud percussion lacking the verve of a full drum kit, and the tinny acoustic guitar solo seems timid without the aid of a roaring Marshall half-stack. “Come Outside,” too, could have benefited from a full-band treatment.

But its finest moment is probably its most unplanned: the delicate “Crazy,” the lyrics of which Segall wrote as he was recording the song. Seemingly sung to his sister, Segall recalls his father (“He’s here / He’s still here,” he sings) and damns his mother in the same breath (“But she’s / cray-zay / concealing your favorite sound”). It’s a moment that would be lost in fuming fuzz, but over nothing more than a steadily strummed acoustic guitar, it hits at maximum impact. Later, that same ire carries the fury his fuzz pedals used to on “She Don’t Care,” a caustic kiss-off to his mother that’s played sweetly, floating on layers of violins.

Sleeper is a large, though not radical, departure from the bulk of Segall’s catalog. But in dialing down the fuzz and eschewing girls-and-partying songs to dig deep into his own personal demons, Segall shows marked maturity as a songwriter. Surely, no slacker could have gone quiet so gracefully, or mined such great depths with such startling clarity.

By Patrick Wall

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