Willie Reviews Ty Segall’s “First Taste”

Willie Reviews Ty Segall’s “First Taste”

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Ty Segall’s new record, First Taste, takes pride in all the elements it can borrow without itself becoming something new. It presents itself as a relic of 1960s psychedelia, but dashes around easily, not tied down to an ethereal spirit. It has an eye, ear, and tongue for intricate, toothsome rhythms. It’s the kind of psych rock album no other psych rockers have the attention span for. Here’s RPM’s review:

Ty Segall is impressively stubborn in his sound, if not his process. He notably chose not to use any guitars on First Taste, but the bouzoukis and mandolins that act as replacements are treated basically like guitars. Perhaps it’s an elaborate joke about hippies traveling to India and playing lackluster licks on sitars, but Segall’s execution seems like a totally earnest effort in music making. One particularly egregious example comes on “I Sing Them,” when he declares “I sing my song and sound like me / I’m not wasting all my time / singing other people’s rhymes” over a breathy wooden flute playing two notes an octave apart. If he had any intention of utilizing the flute in any meaningful way, he would have made it more than a toy. But the urge to sound only like Ty Segall is too strong for little things like contextualizing instruments. And when the songs are good enough, as they often are on this album, it’s enough to make me agree.

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The novel songwriting is really where guitar rock gets the boot. Beyond an obvious reverence for Beatles melodies and the psychedelic goodwill of the Rolling Stones circa Their Satanic Majesties Request, Segall’s songs are built up with interlocking beats and sections that suddenly end. The a cappella middle portion of “Ice Plant” is a giant leap for an artist that loves hiding behind a hundred layers of guitar fuzz. He succeeds often when taking components of psychedelic source material and turning them up to an uncomfortable level. For example, the descending scale trope heard in the verse of something like Pink Floyd’s “Matilda Mother” or at the end of the chorus in Love’s “Alone Again Or” appears on both “Radio” and “Self Esteem.” It’s easy to work that looping motif into a trance, and even easier when you add in some chromaticism. The added sharps are weird, and are only made weirder on “Self Esteem” when a blaring horn break turns into a three minute jam. It takes the idea of hinting at wildness and blows it up to stage it somewhere between controlled jam and out of control improvisation.

I think it’s apt to use Segall’s own naming to describe the most enticing part of the album: it’s tasty! It’s delectable not only in the offshoots and additions within songs, but also in the unexpected production elements. One of the first things you notice are the hard pans to the left or right, hearkening back to the days when two-channel sound was a novelty. Because there is a whole mess of instruments on every track, it’s sort of a necessity, but the choice to pan a dueling horn and … a not-guitar to opposite sides on “Lone Cowboys” is an auditory treat and an illustration of the latent cowboy theme. What’s a tribute to psychedelia with an acid western? It feels like a surrealist mix of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo and an actual John Ford movie.

Ty Segall (looking like a sly Segall), photo by Denée Segall

Partly owing to this production, but also a credit to the album’s grand vision, is the decision to treat the band like an orchestra at strategic junctions. Of course there are garage rock songs that are complete garage rock, like “The Fall” and “Whatever,” but others are more intentional. “Self Esteem” plays like a big band where the bandleader is slowly losing control. “When I Met My Parents” (both Pt. 1 and Pt. 3) relies on cues and vocal breaks to build up something special. These moments speak to the attention to detail needed to create something capable of transporting the listener. They are the times that the psych idiom really works—that is to say, it affects the mind.

I’m holding out hope that Ty Segall will master the shakuhachi for his next album and perform a series of traditional tunes, but I understand that it might not happen. Whether he goes after another sea change in sound or not, we can expect a finished product that sounds like one in his back catalogue. Such is the life of a rocker.

Score: Tasting soup in a world where the tongue map is not a myth.

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