Pink Floyd – The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Released August 5th, 1967 on EMI Columbia Records
Earlier this year, in January, this blog celebrated the 40th anniversary of Animals, a tough, gnarled, and asocial sort of album that was as much an indication of Roger Waters’ eternal crankiness as anything else. The band was celebrating it’s tenth anniversary that year, and it’s worth noting that the difference between Animals and the very first Pink Floyd album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, is staggering. Piper is the most psychedelic of the psychedelic rock albums that defined the genre in 1966-1968, and it screams “a lot of LSD went into the making of this” at the top of it’s lungs. The fact that it did is both a fascinating and terrifying story – perhaps the cautionary tale of acid rock and the 1960s.
Pink Floyd, the band – Roger Waters on bass, Nick Mason on drums, Richard Wright on keyboards, and Syd Barrett playing guitar and singing – had been going under various names since the Beatles were still playing German clubs hopped up on amphetamines. Sometime around 1965 they settled on the name Pink Floyd Sound, which was a combination of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, two blues musicians whose records were in Barrett’s regular rotation. The name stuck, and seemed to spur the group to take things seriously; within a year they had paid gigs in the London club circuit, playing rhythm and blues for the hip audiences that made up the Swinging portion of Swinging London in the mid-Sixties. One such gig, at the Marquee Club, caught the ear of Peter Jenner, who taught at the London School of Economics; Jenner took up their cause, invested in them, became their manager, and convinced them to shorten their name to the now-familiar Pink Floyd. With increased gigs, and press coverage, the group began to experiment. Their R&B repertoire was fleshed out with lengthy instrumental jams, noisy art-sound, and mixed-media presentations that complemented the psychedelic flavour they were hashing out. Much of this stemmed from Barrett’s newfound love of LSD, and the visions that came out of his brain through the drug.
The band’s increased notoriety lead them inevitably to being signed with a record label, in this case EMI. EMI was exceedingly wary about what kind of band they were signing to a contract, and so the terms that were offered were awful, compared to their contemporaries. They received a very low advance, a terrible deal on royalties, and they had to pay for studio time. The only really good part of the contract was that EMI allowed them to do whatever they wanted while they were in the studio – and “whatever they wanted” ended up being The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.
The album is a perfect summation of where the band was at in 1966-1967. The songs are built along thrumming, hard-edged rhythms that flick and whirl with sharp, off-kilter guitar lines, spacey noise pads, and Barrett’s whimsical, at times disturbing vocals. “Lucifer Sam”, “Flaming”, and “Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk” (the latter the album’s lone Roger Waters song) are the most straightforward songs, taking the structure of most English psychedelic rock songs of the time and building off of the R&B stuff the band was playing in their earlier gigs. “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive”, meanwhile, represented the extended jams that they’d gotten into when they decided that what they really wanted to do was soundtrack Barrett’s LSD visions. “Matilda Mother” is creeping folk-rock; “The Gnome” rides a similar vibe but amps up the lysergic absurdity. “Bike” finishes off the album in a comfortable fashion, like a nice pleasant come down from a somewhat terrifying acid trip. It was, in terms of ideas and execution, far beyond what many bands at the time were attempting; it put other psychedelic acts to shame with it’s explosive exploration of the limits of rock ‘n’ roll.
Unfortunately, if acid was it’s main driving force, acid was also it’s ultimate destruction. By the time The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn came out, Barrett’s heavy, daily LSD use was taking a grim toll. Before 1967 Barrett was remembered as a friendly and exuberant person; as he continued to dose himself heavily with LSD, he became distanced, unfriendly, and detached from reality. He would go through manic stages and then bottom out with periods that were basically catatonic states. Rumours have abounded throughout the years that Barrett’s LSD use triggered a latent schizophrenic state in his brain, which would explain some of his subsequent behaviour. That behaviour, in the wake of the release of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, would become increasingly erratic and bizarre. He developed an infamous dead stare, and at times would be completely unaware of where he was. Before a gig at the UFO Club, Waters found him in the dressing room, completely unresponsive. With the help of Jenner, Barrett was lugged out on stage, where he stood motionless with his guitar hung around his neck. Nor was this the only instance of that dead stare during performances. While gigging in support of the album in America, Barrett spent a performance on The Pat Boone Show (where acts lip-synced to their singles) staring into the camera. An interview with Dick Clark was spent staring at Clark and refusing to answer any questions the host would ask. During one performance he refused to play “Interstellar Overdrive”, instead detuning each string on his guitar until it fell off; the audience thought it was all part of the act, but it was clear to the band and their management that Barrett’s mental state was completely unraveling and the American tour was cut short.
By 1968 Barrett’s tenure in the band was by-and-large over. After some abortive attempts to write new material and rehearse (including the infamous “Have You Got It Yet?” incident, which you should look up because it’s honestly fucking hilarious and indicative of Barrett’s weird sense of humour), the band decided to move on and replace him at live shows with a friend of the band, David Gilmour. There was an idea at first to keep going with Barrett writing the songs a la Brian Wilson, but Barrett’s catastrophic mental breakdown made it so even that was a dubious prospect. He would release an interesting solo album (1970’s The Madcap Laughs) and Pink Floyd would of course go on to become jet-setting international superstars, but The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn is the sole artifact of the melding of the two forces, and it remains the best document of the entire psychedelic scene in 1960’s England. As the band grew, they jettisoned most of these tracks from their live shows, except for the long space fillers “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive”; regardless, these are all integral pieces of the Pink Floyd Experience, the sound of hip rock ‘n’ roll artists on the verge of something profound and new.
The Incredible String Band – The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion
Released July, 1967 on Elektra Records
Incredible String Band were a couple of Scottish folkies who got their start wanting to be Donovan and Bob Dylan and ended up being mainstays of the lysergic road of the Hippie Trail. Their 1966 self-titled debut showed the former as being big influences; this follow-up included a number of then-exotic instruments (sitar, gimbri, mandolin, etc.) that were incorporated in such a blissful way that “psychedelic folk” leads it’s long, bizarre trail directly back to it. If 1967 was indeed the fabled Summer Of Love, then The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion is the most Love-y album of that summer. This is meant in two senses. In the first sense, 5000 Spirits is pretty much the epitome of psych-folk, which was the driving soundtrack of the naked, wild, flower-dancing hippie children of 1967. In the second sense, it is also the epitome of the more teeth-grinding aspects of that era; it’s overly fey in spots, cutesy beyond credibility (“The Hedgehog’s Song”), incorporates blues music without really understanding the grinding poverty that underpinned the blues (“No Sleep Blues”, “Blues For The Muse”), and plays fast and loose with the era’s regrettable love for freewheeling, womanizing men (“The First Girl I Loved”). There’s little wonder, then, that Paul McCartney called it his favourite album of 1967. Still, as far as documents of a decade’s music go, there’s few records that sum up the 1960s quite as well as 5000 Spirits.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released June 2nd, 1967 on Capitol Records (May 26th on Parlophone Records in the UK)
Listen, I’m not as much of a fan of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as you are.
People – critics and fans – have often talked about it as being the best album ever made. It’s Boomer nonsense. It’s a good album, to be sure, but it’s not even the best Beatles album. It’s not even in the top five. The official Beatles Power Ranking is: The Beatles, Revolver, Abbey Road, Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour, Let It Be, Please Please Me, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Help!, A Hard Day’s Night, With The Beatles, and finally the rather leaden Beatles For Sale rounding everything out. So without any further ado, let’s discuss The Beatles’ 8th best album.
Many consider it the first Album – rock as art. It’s a very early version of a concept album (although I think The Who and A Quick One beats it) and it was the first album to include the lyrics, which got under a lot of people’s skin at the time as it made music purists think that these upstart mop-top boy-banders were trying to be something more than they were. Even though I’m not a superfan of this record, it’s obvious from historical and technical context that those purists were wrong. By 1967 The Beatles had long since ceased performing live; their last performance, at Candlestick Park in August of 1966, capped off a hellish final tour that found them chased, prodded, manhandled, and, in the American South, shot at and threatened with death. Revolver had been released in the midst of that tour, and during it’s recording process the band discovered that the studio was far more fun than getting shot at by American white nationalists. As a result, they abandoned performing for screaming teenagers in venues where they couldn’t even hear themselves play and fell full-on into making technical magic with “fifth Beatle” producer George Martin.
Technically, for the time, Sgt Pepper’s is a masterpiece. Recorded using 4-track machines even though 8-tracks were available at the time, Martin and the band forged new ground in creative use of 4-track recording to get the sounds that you hear on the record. A lot of tracks were mixed down onto a single track and then used to record more tracks, to create a huge array of overdubbed tracks that form the backbone of the dense sounds that can be heard throughout. Many of the techniques that I and a myriad of other producers, amateur and professional, use today have their birth during the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions: dynamic range compression, double-tracking, signal limiters, varispeed recording, and of course the term “flanger”, which came out of a joke made by Martin about Lennon’s double-tracked vocals. In terms of physical recording techniques, the use of close-miking on Ringo Starr’s drums on the title track also became standard practice, and the use of crossfading between tracks instead of the usual hard-stop was pioneered here and became a regular occurrence on popular albums from 1967 onward.
Musically, the album is less of a success. The title track (and it’s reprise late in the album) is a stellar bit of rock ‘n’ roll songcraft, and “With A Little Help From My Friends” is good fun (although the Joe Cocker cover is much better). “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” has become a standby anthem for the drug counterculture but it seems in retrospect lightweight, a forced spray of psychedelia that seems more like a copycat gesture than it does a genuine integration into what the band’s contemporaries were doing. “Getting Better” suffers from the same problem as many McCartney compositions of the era: it’s too jaunty by half, as though the man were swaying back and forth at his piano, pounding the keys while the rest of the band plays in the background, bored stiff. It’s also a distressingly bourgeois song: who has to admit it’s getting better, Paul? The poor, who were still struggling to provide in the middle of the so-called Summer Of Love? The young Americans, who were being sent off to die in droves in the jungle? George Harrison, who was getting ignored by the barreling Lennon-McCartney machine and was thinking of just heading back to India and staying there? The jury is still out.
“Fixing A Hole” suffers a similar fate, in that it’s a McCartney song that feels a little too knowing; there’s a good song in there, but the decision to play it in a sort of stiff half-time renders it more wooden than it should be. The production is top-notch, but the structure itself is lacking. “She’s Leaving Home” manages to right the ship, with a classic Lennon/McCartney combo melody that takes “Eleanor Rigby” to a new level. Unfortunately, Side One doesn’t end there; it ends instead with Lennon’s second fey kaleidoscope-psychedelia composition, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, which revels in Edwardian pomp without saying much of anything (see David Bowie’s first album for more like this). Side Two doesn’t start off much better. Harrison’s sole contribution, “Within You Without You”, is a faux-raga obsessed with India that substitutes foreign exotica for psychedelic trippiness. It’s a decent enough attempt at trying to break the mold (especially for a class act songwriter who was growing bored with Beatles-as-usual) but it’s woefully out of place on the record, and it seems like an unnecessary expansion on something they’d already perfected (“Tomorrow Never Knows”). “When I’m Sixty Four” is the nadir of the album, the worst of McCartney’s Vaudeville-inspired jaunty bullshit; it was reportedly written in McCartney’s teen years, when the band was still pumping out amphetamine-fueled rock ‘n’ roll in Germany, and it probably should have been buried there. “Lovely Rita” is better, but still has that same goddamn bourgeois bounce that features Paul trying to out-jolly everyone in England with a vengeance. “Good Morning Good Morning” is the return of the slightly more sober John Lennon, and although it’s a bit hamfisted it’s also a righteous bit of rock ‘n’ roll. The “Sgt. Pepper’s” reprise is top-notch, and “A Day In The Life” is of course one of the band’s all-time great songs.
In a sense, Sgt. Pepper’s was a rough draft for what the band would go on to do with Magical Mystery Tour and The Beatles. As an alleged concept album it’s mostly a failure. The “military band” idea that spurred the recordings only shows up twice, and the rest of it bears no resemblance to the concept whatsoever. Instead, it’s a collection of bold experiments by a band that knew they wouldn’t have to perform these songs live. It builds on the studio techniques they started playing with on Revolver, but the songs on Revolver are much stronger. It’s an interesting junction point in the band’s career, but not for the usual Rolling Stone cover-story reasons; it represents the moment that their ambition outstripped their actual abilities, a problem that would be quickly rectified over the following three years. 1968’s The Beatles would be the perfection of what they tried to work out here, although Sgt. Pepper’s would be the key album of the Summer Of Love, such as it was, so in terms of eventual influence they’re equal. In the end, though, regardless of any of the problems or artistic over-steppings that occurs on the album, “A Day In The Life” is one of the best songs ever written and is worth the price of admission all on it’s own.
Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Released March 20th, 2007 on Paw Tracks
When Person Pitch first came out I was of the opinion that it sounded exactly like the Beach Boys, if the Beach Boys had been granted access to high-octane research chemicals during the writing and recording process. Very little in the ensuing decade has given me any reason to change this opinion.
Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox was, in early 2007, on top of the world. His day job band, psychedelic electronic acid-jammers Animal Collective, were being increasingly recognized as one of the most vital bands in contemporary indie rock (Strawberry Jam was just around the corner to cement this status). Between Feels, AnCo’s breakthrough album, and Person Pitch Lennox moved to Lisbon, Portugal; the sunny climate and generally carefree atmosphere Lennox found heavily influenced the sound of the album. The stacked vocals evoke a very beachy, very free-wheeling sense of fun and abandon; the sampled loops and instruments that clatter on beneath everything add to the sense of unreality, as though you’re on an endless vacation in a place where the sand is white and the water is a clear, brilliant blue and you have no return ticket. “Bros” (jam of a lifetime) and “Good Girl/Carrots” add a bit of gallop to the sound, as though the Grateful Dead (pre-Workingman’s Dead) had access to a modern recording studio and all of the LSD they could ever want.
Person Pitch was the height of Noah Lennox as a solo artist. His next album would largely ditch the samplers in favour of more guitar-focused work, and his follow-up to that would try to rework samplers back in while striving for a more radio-ready sound. Neither have the sense of hedonistic abandon that characterizes Person Pitch and neither has the reverb-laden choral quality of vocals that marks the album out as something special.
Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
Released February 1st, 1967 on RCA Victor
The heads have known for a lot longer than fifty years what Grace Slick sang about on “White Rabbit”: “Remember what the Doormouse said / feed your head.” It had never been put in such a way that defined an entire generational ethos. The song – the Jefferson Airplane as a whole – embodies the sound of San Francisco in the fabled Summer Of Love, 1967. There were many other albums that came out of the same place at the same time, but few nail the period quite as well as Surrealistic Pillow.
This is psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, full stop. There’s the garage sounds that were lifted raw and steaming from the Nuggets era: “Go To Her”, “She Has Funny Cars”, and “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” go full out in competition with the Electric Prunes or the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. The Beatles get nods on “My Best Friend” and “D.C.B.A.-25”, although the Beatles themselves would soon switch gears into a different direction entirely. “How Do You Feel”, “Today”, and “Comin’ Back To Me” mirror the gentle influence of the bohemian folk scene. Three of the final four songs play with the strong blues influence of the time: “In The Morning” kicks out a languid swamp jam, driven by harp and and a deep underlying groove; “J.P.P. Mc Step B. Blues” built itself on an acoustic blues riff that was endemic to San Francisco at the time – it’s vibe would be replicated later in the year by Love; “Come Back Baby” modeled itself on the speed and hard-edged riffing of English bands like Cream.
Then there are the singles. “Somebody To Love”, benefits from a harrowing vocal take from Grace Slick and a crisp, relentless backbeat. There’s always been a kind of unsettling quality to the song, but Jim Carrey’s manic karaoke take on it in The Cable Guy brings that creepy vibe to the next level. “White Rabbit”, of course, brings us right back around again to the beginning: San Francisco, 1967. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Wear a flower in your hair. Where do these lovely visions come from? Why does my head feel so light? Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.
Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Released January 23rd, 2007 on Polyvinyl Records
Kevin Barnes is a weird dude, but he’s utterly committed to a good concept. Hissing Fauna is the first album in a concept trilogy that revolves around Kevin Barnes having a breakdown and transforming into a black male-to-female-to-male transgendered individual named Georgie Fruit, who has spent a couple years in and out of prison and once played in a hard funk band back in the drugged-out Seventies.
What? OK, check it –
Kevin Barnes married an artist named Nina Twin and moved with her to Norway. While there he had a bout with clinical depression (he felt the bleak despair of those black metal bands) and marital trouble (a constant refrain of every Of Montreal album after this one) and eventually was prescribed anti-depressants, which leveled him out and gave him the inspiration to write Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? He came up with the concept of Georgie Fruit, a glammy alter-ego that was more than a bit of a nod at David Bowie’s theatrical character-switching, and in the course of eleven-plus minutes on “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” switches into the costume. If that still sounds confusing, just listen to “A Sentence Of Sorts In Kongsvinger” and that should clear things up for you.
Of Montreal is part of the fabled Athens, GA Elephant Six recording collective, and so it must be said that Hissing Fauna is replete with fey psychedelia, ambitious and experimental sound placement, and a love of the culture and music of the Sixties. Barnes welds that with horny R&B-influenced pop, much as Prince did in his heyday, and as such there’s less “bearded weirdo playing an obscure instrument on an early Beatles cover in a wooden backwood theatre” and more “awkward indie kids dancing at a hole-in-the-wall and hooking up later in a room covered in theatre bills and Xeroxed punk rock flyers”. It’s less on-the-nose Prince worship than the next two Georgie Fruit-fronted albums, Skeletal Lamping and False Priest, and it retains a lot of the early Of Montreal whimsy and delicateness; it’s telling that the band has never produced a real classic album since.
What a pinnacle, though. “Suffer For Fashion” opens the album with an artillery blast of a pop song, easily one of the best indie tracks released in the Oughts. “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” makes waiting for anti-depressants to kick in sound like it should have always been the subject of a glam-rock epic. “Gronlandic Edit” has a strut that a thousand would-be funkateers would die for. “Faberge Falls For Shuggie” is probably the most Elephant Six of the songs presented, and even it wiggles it’s ass for all its worth. “She’s A Rejecter” is a harrowing hard rocker that presages the more bitter songs Barnes would write about his wife (later ex-wife) as albums went on. It’s an album overflowing with big hooks, funky struts, and hip literary references that can fly by without being noticed – the mousy girl screaming “violence, violence” is a reference to Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? on the same song that Barnes directly references Georges Bataille and “The Story Of The Eye”. Ten years on, neither Barnes nor the band as a whole have come close to topping it, despite individual songs capturing the old magic a bit.
Pink Floyd – Animals
Released January 23rd, 1977 on Columbia Records
If Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s extremely successful followup to their legendary breakthrough album Dark Side Of The Moon, contained the first hints of Roger Waters’ growing disgust and misanthropy, Animals is the full-on document of it. Animals is, to put it bluntly, bleak. Waters divides the whole of British society into three categories, in an homage of sorts to Orwell’s Animal Farm: the pigs that rule over society, the dogs that bully society, and the sheep that comprise the rest. The three main suites are lengthy, nihilistic jams that eschew radio-ready hooks for slashing blues guitar, lumbering bass, and vocal lines that sound as though Waters is literally chewing off the words and spitting them out. To say that 10-minute-plus slabs of dark, misanthropic guitar music was rather unfriendly to radio is an understatement. There are two reasons for this change-up in the sound of the band: first, as “Welcome To The Machine” and “Have A Cigar” on Wish You Were Here indicated, Waters and the band were growing sick of the record industry’s increasingly banal demands on the band; second, the underground punk rock movement that had grown throughout 1976 had set it’s sights on “dinosaur rock” prog movements, who were perceived as bourgeois and decadent. The latter is not entirely the case – Johnny Rotten was actually a fan of a lot of prog acts, and his infamous “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt was a sort of joke – it was enough for the band to think that keeping their art separate from industry concerns was probably a good thing.
Animals has remained something of a black sheep in the catalog for many less hardcore Floyd fans, stuck as it is between the (relatively) radio-ready sound of Wish You Were Here and the generational majesty of The Wall. The sound of the latter album has it’s roots in Animals, though, and the concept emerged from the In The Flesh tour the band undertook to promote Animals. The tour was even more of a slog than recording the album had been, with many members of the band at odds with each other and the whole concept of being in Pink Floyd to begin with. Keyboardist Richard Wright, feeling shut out by Roger Waters, feuded constantly with him, at one point flying back to England and threatening to quit entirely. Promoters tried to cheat them out of portions of ticket sales; the inflatable pig they used as a stage prop kept getting filled with a continually more dangerous mix of gases; David Gilmour lapsed into a low point of his professional career after realizing that he’d reached the top with nowhere left to go. Waters, for his part, began arriving alone to the venues and leaving before the rest of the band; as the tour went on he became increasingly more hostile to the audience. This culminated in an incident at the last show of the tour in Montreal, where Waters spit on a group of fans who were irritating him in the front row. Afterwards, he spoke about the utter alienation he felt from the people in the audience and how he would like to build a wall between him and them, “brick by brick.”
The Doors – The Doors
Released January 4th, 1967 on Elektra Records
The Doors hurled mainstream pop music into the mystic unknown, launching missives of darkness, poetry, and power on the unsuspecting masses. Fittingly, the album began on a beach, with Jim Morrison appearing back into Ray Manzarek’s life and singing the melody to “Moonlight Drive”. After hooking up with a flamenco guitarist (Robby Kreiger) and a jazz drummer (John Densmore) the group spent a time perfecting their act as the house band at the Whisky A-Go-Go in L.A., where they expanded nightly on their songs until they included the stretched-out jams found on “Light My Fire” and “The End”. The latter would cause the group to lose their gig at the Whisky due to the Oedipal nature of the song and Morrison’s heavy willingness to scream the word “FUCK!” in the middle of it. It would go on to have a searing second life in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now! where it would soundtrack Martin Sheen’s descent into his final madness and his assassination of Colonel Kurtz. Following the recording session for the song, Morrison returned to the studio high on acid and mistook the studio’s red lights for a fire, resulting in all of the recording equipment being sprayed down with a fire extinguisher.
Elsewhere, “Break On Through”, the album’s first single, failed to make much of a dent in the charts but “Light My Fire” (the first composition Robby Kreiger ever penned) drove the album to #2 in the U.S. Ray Manzarek’s autobiography (Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors, highly recommended) contains a passage where he gets his first royalty check for $50,000 and he thinks that it’s supposed to be split among the whole band and his girlfriend breaks the news that it’s actually just his share. Also of note: the two covers, “Alabama Song”, a German opera song from the 1920s and “Back Door Man”, a slick, sleazy Willie Dixon song that the band hones into a finely-edged switchblade; the party-all-night swirl of “Soul Kitchen”; and the hard-charging bounce of “Twentieth Century Fox”. The combination of hip, blues and jazz-influenced rock ‘n’ roll and eerie, mystical psychedelic unease would, er, light the fire of an entire generation of kids; that half-mad nighttime beat would inform both the more direct homage of the Psychedelic Furs and the more subtle insanity of Joy Division, as well as the vampires of 1987’s The Lost Boys.
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger
Released January 22nd, 2016 on Drag City Records
It’s 2016, and after eight years and fifty bajillion albums, Ty Garrett Segall is the undisputed master of modern psychedelic garage rock. On his own he has classics like Melted to his name; Slaughterhouse, recorded with his touring band as the Ty Segall Band, is one of the most vicious rock ‘n’ roll albums you will ever hear; his work with Fuzz is some of the best stoner rock ever recorded. Disciple/touring bandmate Mikal Cronin has gone on to stake a claim of his own, and his work with King Tuff brought Black Moon Spell to the next level. He’s the guru of the noisy underground, and with good reason.
His last two proper LPs, however, seem to have been a transitional thing for him; they seemed searching, as though Segall was no longer sure of who he was or where he was going. 2013’s Sleeper was uncharacteristically subdued, favouring acoustic guitars and hushed songs over the thick fuzz and twisted weirdness of Melted or Twins. Released a year later, Manipulator returned the volume but left out the bizarre out-there experimentation that characterized his early work. It was also very straightforward, for Ty Segall: it was a wall-to-wall collection of stately classic rock tropes lifted out of Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Bad Company, without much of the high-flying psychedelia. It’s good stuff, but in the face of everything that came before both Sleeper and Manipulator feel staid, like what would happen if a normie tried to approximate Ty Segall.
Emotional Mugger brings him back around full circle to Melted again, returning the weird conceptual nature, the odd noises, and the sense of trippy dread while keeping the traditional structuring he explored on his previous two records. The opening riff of “Squealer” shows that his old love of slathering his stuff in thick layers of goopy fuzz has returned; “Diversion”, “Mandy Cream”, and “Candy Sam” all continue in this vein. “Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess” and “Baby Big Man (I Want A Mommy)” hearken back to the experimental vibe that he brought to albums like Hair and Reverse Shark Attack while keeping their feet planted in the earth. “Squealer Two” is funky, adding wah into the fuzz-guitar mix to create something that sounds like David Bowie’s “Fame” as done by a severely drugged out Black Sabbath- which is to say that it rocks. The only real missteps on the album are “Breakfast Eggs” and “W.U.O.T.W.S.”: “W.U.O.T.W.S.” probably doesn’t need to be explained, as it’s the sort of weirdo run-down-the-radio-dial that sounds cool once and then gets skipped every time after; “Breakfast Eggs” has a nice rolling groove of a riff but the whole “Candy, I want your candy” line falls flat. I get that it’s playing with a rock ‘n’ roll trope but it doesn’t succeed in subverting it so much as it revels too much in its overall cheesiness.
There is also an overall theme running through Emotional Mugger, about how modern existence and the overabundance of technology robs us of our emotional response to stimuli and overburdens us with information and experience, but to Segall’s credit it doesn’t interfere with the proceedings at all. In the end, it’s a summation of everything that sets Ty Segall apart as an artist and a performer, and it sounds really great when you crank it up loud.