Ty Segall - Manipulator

This Album Of The Week column has been running for nearly three years now, so it’s something of a surprise that Ty Segall has only appeared in this space once before. (He won Album Of The Week honors for the Stoogesian slobberknocker Slaughterhouse, and I was on paternity leave that week, so I didn’t even write the thing; Corban Goble was the man responsible there.) Segall is a human garage-rock factory, and the catalog he’s put together over the past few years has been, in its totality, spectacular: Album after album of deeply satisfying guitar jams, each one tackling a different nook or cranny of Segall’s own personal aesthetic. But he’s also got the unfortunate tendency to drop albums during busy weeks, so he keeps losing this thing. Hair, his great collaborative album with White Fence, lost to Torche in a decision that I might revisit if I could. Twins lost to Converge and arguably should’ve lost to Tame Impala. Sleeper lost to Superchunk. The self-titled debut from Segall’s power trio Fuzz lost to HAIM. And it’s not like Segall suddenly wised up. Manipulator, his new one, comes on one of the year’s strongest release dates. He’s up against Merchandise’s darkly glimmering and authoritative After The End and Rustie’s giddily ADD Green Language and the New Pornographers’ explosively tuneful Brill Bruisers, as well as strong efforts from J Mascis and the Bug and Basement Jaxx and, yes, Ariana Grande. I almost wrote about Cymbals Eat Guitars’ soaring and heartfelt amp-melter LOSE, an album way too good to be overlooked. But with Manipulator, Segall has finally made an album that transcends his own high standards, a sharp and immediate and tough and canny double-slab that, I’d argue, ranks as the best thing he’s ever done. He couldn’t be denied. It wouldn’t be right.

Segall has always existed head and shoulders above just about anyone else in the retro-garage rock scene that birthed him, but that says more about the scene than it does about Segall. For decades, garage rockers have attempted to mirror the crude, troglodytic immediacy of the mid-’60s proto-punk bands whose best singles were collected on the Nuggets compilations, without ever quite equaling the songcraft that made those bands local sensations in the first place. The ’90s Crypt Records crew made a ton of fun, scuzzy riffs, but the Devil Dogs and the Gories and the New Bomb Turks didn’t exactly have a “Louie Louie” in them, and neither do inheritors like Twin Peaks or King Khan. The Black Lips got over for a while on drunken live-show antics, but that’ll only get you so far. And even Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, a mentor to Segall, achieves liftoff onstage a lot more often than he does on record. (All these bands can make for great, great nights out; I’m not hating.) But Segall has chops that most of those guys don’t have; his guitar solos burn and roar like prime Mascis. Segall doesn’t stick to a two-chord blueprint; he’s game to push his style into the Neil Young-style folk reveries of Sleeper or the almost-metal burn of Slaughterhouse even if he’d be fine kicking out rave-up after rave-up. And most importantly, Segall has songs. For how often he cranks out new albums, he almost never puts his name on a song that doesn’t have a serious hook. And on Manipulator, those hooks are more plentiful than ever.

If every Segall album offers his take on another rock subgenre, then Manipulator is the glam record, something he’s pounding home harder by rocking glittery makeup onstage and in press photos lately. But being who he is, Segall can’t make a typical glam-revival record. In recent decades, bands like Placebo have mined that early Bowie/T. Rex sound, but they’ve gone for lustrous sweep, adding a spotless production sheen that those early glam records didn’t really have. Really, though, glam and garage rock were never that far from each other, especially when you factor in the Bowie/Stooges connection or the first New York Dolls record. And that’s the blueprint Segall is working from. He spends all of Manipulator singing in a helium-whine upper register, and there’s some arch snap in both his vocals and his riffs. He’s got string sections on a few songs, an indulgence he’s never tried before. But his guitar still roars and sputters, and the production still has that live-in-the-room grime to it, even if Segall assembled the album painstakingly, piece by piece. (Segall plays almost every instrument on the record, and his touring band only shows up on one song.) The grandest, prettiest song on the album is probably the closing track “Stick Around,” with its orchestral coda and its acoustic strums and the haughty, flippant sneer in Segall’s voice. But even with that one, everything builds up to a dual guitar solo that will just punch through your stomach and rip your intestines out.

The 17 songs on Manipulator clock in at just under an hour, which makes the album easily Segall’s longest and a total epic by his standards. (Segall has been referring to it as a “double album” even though it fits comfortably on one CD, but you already knew he was a vinyl guy.) That hour flies by, though, for a lot of different reasons. For one thing, even though Manipulator largely stays within the glam side of what Segall does, it finds plenty of room for internal variation. The acidic acoustic-psych ditty “The Lover,” for instance, has Segall’s falsetto edging into Brett Anderson territory, and then he goes and follows it up with “It’s Over,” a percussive fuzz-rock workout with drums so busy that they remind me of the early-’70s rock songs (like the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man”) that got played at early discos because DJs didn’t have disco music to play yet. There are acoustic songs on Manipulator, and then there are drooling effects-pedal monsters. And even with how often Segall switches things up, he never loses his sense of basic propulsion.

Segall started out as a drummer, and other than when he’s guitar-soloing, he plays every single instrument like it’s percussion. His acoustic-guitar strums are hard and incisive, and they push songs forward. So does his protean distorto-bass. The all-drums breakdown on “Feel” reminds me of the part on “The Wizard” where Black Sabbath briefly morphed into an acid-funk band. The tambourines on the title track come in at the exact right moment. And it helps that Segall is a great drummer who has finally figured out his ideal drum sound. “Mister Main,” for instance, is a straight-up funk song that works as a better showcase for Segall’s drums than anything on the Fuzz album (even though Segall only plays drums in Fuzz). It’s got a swinging, push-pulling, syncopated groove that shows Segall has spent nearly as much time absorbing Meters records as he has with Sabbath and the Stooges. If kids still danced to rock music, there isn’t a single song on Manipulator that couldn’t find a home on the dancefloor.

For all its double-album ambition, Manipulator doesn’t exactly aspire to take us on a grand journey. It’s a collection of songs rather than a cohesive whole with its own narrative. But that actually works in its favor. These songs are great, and there’s not a single one worth skipping. And it’s exciting that, even on his big glam-rock move, Segall keeps his feet planted firmly on the ground. People with his level of talent have a way of disappearing up their own assholes, but not Segall. He’s got a merciless efficiency to his songcraft, and he just can’t bring himself to let a song run past five minutes, since he knows better than to overstay his welcome. After years of slapdash recording, Manipulator marks the first time he’s committed to spending upwards of a year writing an album, then living in the studio for a month to record it. But that focus has only deepend his work ethic and his relentless sense of melody, and now he’s come away with one of the most confident and refreshing rock albums in recent memory. Segall has made a habit of topping himself, but I don’t know how he’ll top this. I just know he’ll try.

Manipulator is out now on Drag City. Stream it here.

Other albums of note out this week:

• The New Pornographers’ purposeful, exploding-with-hooks Brill Bruisers.
• Merchadise’s swaggering goth-pop move After The End.
• Cymbals Eat Guitars’ triumphant, heartbroken, beautiful LOSE.
• Rustie’s joyously silly dance-music overload Green Language.
• J Mascis’ weary, gorgeously tuneful Tied To A Star
• Basement Jaxx’s dizzy global dance party Junto.
• Ariana Grande’s endearingly frothy My Everything.
• The Bug’s seesawing, intense pirate-radio workout Angels & Devils.
• The Rentals’ hooky reunion effort Lost In Alphaville.
• Cold Specks’ ruminative, eerie Neuroplasticity.
• Cayetana’s energetic punk rock debut Nervous Like Me.
• Former Vivian Girls leader Cassie Ramone’s solo debut The Time Has Come.
• Ashrae Fax’s dreampop comeback Never Really Been Into It.
• Bastard Sapling’s majestic black metal ripper Instinct Is Forever.
• Opeth’s reliably epic and progged-out Pale Communion.
• Harvey Milk side project Music Blues’ ominous debut Things Haven’t Gone Well.
• You.’s dark synthpop wallow Sunchaser.
• Cassavetes’ sharp, focused Oh So Long.
* SW/MM/NG’s moody psych-popper Feel Not Bad.
• Drums sideman Johnny Aries’ solo debut Unbloomed.
• WISH’s self-titled psych rock debut.
• Alma Construct’s self-titled EP.

Comments (49)
  1. I didn’t like this as much as I wanted. I’ve loved most of his albums, but the last two (this and Sleeper) just haven’t felt the same. It’s good, just not my favorite.

    If I had to pick an AOTW, I’d go with The Wytches “Annabel Dream Reader” which is apparently getting carved by critics (according to Metacritic) which is a shame. Merchandise and Cymbals Eat Guitars would be the definite runner ups.

  2. Damn, this was a good week for music. These Merchandise and Cymbals Eat Guitars albums are heading straight for my year-end lists.

  3. I really like Brill Bruisers, I think it’s the best New Pornographers album since Twin Cinema. And since I don’t think they’ll ever top Mass Romantic or Twin Cinema that’s good enough for me.

  4. This was a pretty stacked week but only one album had 17 single-worthy songs. Good choice.

  5. I’m still trying to wrap my head (or ears, rather) around this release week. SO many good ones today: Merchandise, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Rustie, The Bug, Ty Segall… cannot wait to fire up Spotify on my way home from work and blast the hell out of as many as I can.

  6. The Bug’s “Angels & Devils” is the album I gravitated toward this week. Made me listen to “London Zoo” again, which made it apparent the new one isn’t as good as that one. Still, I enjoyed the half chill / half demented approach to the album.

    Loved “Manipulator” when I listened to it a few days ago. Excited to check out Merchandise too. But for any newer Stereogum readers looking for some quality reading to pass the day, go ahead and browse the comment section of the Torche AOTW linked in the first paragraph. Some Grade A Stereogum History all over that post.

    • ssshh… That person is probably lurking here now but if nobody talks about him maybe he won’t come back.

    • Wow, that comment section for Torche was INTENSE!

      It ain’t like that around here so much these days. Not saying that Michael guy’s energy was the most positive, but he got some juices flowing and really believed in the power of music, so much so that he would pick fights over it. Part of what seems so blah about music these days is how small the stakes are: which crappy pop song will be number one, the horrible one or the slightly less horrible one? Who’s song will get licensed for an advert? Who’s Twitter beef will get some media play? I have been digging the hell out of New Pornographers and Merchandise but aside from the couple blogs I read and a couple of friends who like indie rock, I feel like no one else in the wider culture is even paying attention. And after a couple of weeks, even that small amount of discussion will vanish as 100 other albums get released and jockey for the finite amount of time we have to listen to music. I love this stuff, but I can’t help but be a little jealous of when good music really drove the mainstream culture. I sometimes feel like the musical equivalent of a stamp collector. Michael, although very douchey at times, really took music to heart.

      • He was also an early and big Merchandise supporter. I checked his site recently and he wrote a big piece on one of their new songs from “After The End”. Despite his polarizing comments, he was really the only commenter that could safely say he was actually keeping up with the newer artists that we here would eventually get around to after some time had passed. Dude is dedicated, still going even. He needed a break from this site though, wasn’t doing anybody any good anymore. I have nothing but respect for him. Sure, that Torche comment section shows us butting heads, but I’d like to think we patched things up since then. His musical taste is spot on in line with what most of us really like here, and all the Merchandise hype had me thinking of him recently. But cobra’s comment reflects how the majority of people feel nowadays.

        Either way, can’t wait to hear this Merchandise album when I get home! Glad to hear Cymbals Eat Guitars is great too, LOVED Why There Are Mountains so much, glad to hear they’re back.

        • I do miss the _ and hopefully he does come back. He’s great because he ignites a lot of passion for commentors without being just some internet troll. He’s got his passions and values and when they don’t line up with another’s, he is damned-sure to let you know.

          • I also miss _ but also wonderful if he would be on the writing staff somewhere had it not been for that post-guest spot outburst. He was so right about The Money Store too.

  7. Excellent album. Plus, Merchandise got a 3-page feature. So everything evens out. OWWWOOOOOOOOO!

  8. This album is a monster. Best rock and roll record I’ve heard in quite some time.

  9. For god sakes Stereogum, y’all dropped the ball this week. Couldn’t we have gotten Premature Evaluations for Merchandise and Cymbals Eat Guitars? These albums DESERVE to be discussed. (Anyone game?) I’m not trying to snub Ty either, as Manipulator is definitely in top 5 of the year for me. I just HATE when music blogs feel the need to stick to their one/two a week quota of album accolades (Pitchfork is guilty of this as well, giving high 7 scores just to save the coveted BNM). Instead of devoting an entire fucking page to Kix, y’all should’ve taken some time to write about some of the other excellent albums released this week.

    • We just published a 3-page feature on Merchandise! There is A LOT about the new record in there! http://www.stereogum.com/1701291/this-is-the-ether-re-introducing-merchandise/franchises/cover-story/

      • I saw! I read it, and y’all have been tossing around a bunch of praise for the new Merchandise, so I guess I was referring to Cymbals Eat Guitars or New Pornos (or even Rustie) getting a write-up. No big deal in hindsight though. Thanks for the excellent reporting and writing!

    • Merchandise got a great writeup on this site today and Cymbals Eat Guitars had a really good interview here a few weeks ago, so I think this is a cool to divvy up the press. There are some really strong new releases today! Dinosaur Jr fans should really listen to that new J Mascis record. It’s a good middle ground between his Several Shades of Why album and Dinosaur Jr songs. Some it reminds me of Where You Been or Hand it Over, and that’s a good thing.

  10. I like Manipulator, but Cymbals Eat Guitars’ LOSE is just plain the best album this week, and one of the best of the year.

  11. J Mascis all the way for me.
    “Tied To A Star” not only AOTW, but AOTY.

  12. I like Ty Segall but Cymbals Eat Guitars album really wowed me.

  13. J Mascis for Prez

  14. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • No you just have bad taste in music. Age has nothing to do with it.

      • It might definitely be the case, and I’m not being sarcastic about it, because far too many people here seem to like War on Drugs, Sun Kil Moon or Lana Del Rey albums, all of which I found to be some of the most boring music made this year :(

        • Welp, I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting such a polite response. Obviously this is all subjective and whatnot – I generally try not to say anyone has “bad taste” in music save for the folks who refuse to listen to anything other than the radio, because that’s just boring. I do prickle at declarations of opinion as severe as “bland, average-sounding indie pop made for teenage girls” because it seems unnecessarily dismissive and negative.

          • Out of the three songs that I listened to, “Jackson” was a good one and sounded pretty OK.
            But “Warning” and “Chambers” were really nothing to write home about, at best these two sounded more like fillers to me.
            So, one out of three is not that great, but I’ll try to give the whole album a listen in the next couple of days when I find the time. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I hear the rest of the tracks, who knows :)

            I know I’m a little too late with this reply, but I wanted to explain my opinion in more detail.

      • No, he’s right. It sucks.

  15. This week must have been so stacked with new release that you forgot to add Mono/Poly with Golden Skies to your list of notable albums. Great record that makes me even more unable to wait for label fellow Flying Lotus’s new album to come out.

  16. J Mascis really knocked it out of the park this week. Anyone who liked Kurt Vile’s last few records (and Dino Jr, obviously) owes it to themselves to check it out.

  17. Ariana Grande was robbed! (but more importantly, The New Pornographers were robbed)

  18. I’m gonna mention Cymbals Eat Guitars like so many other commenters: I listened to LOSE at least three times before it was released, all on various sizes of speakers. I thought “This is pretty good.” Then today I listened to the whole thing cranked up on headphones and I was blown away. The passion in the vocals and the crunchiness of the guitars comes across much better on headphones. The Merchandise and Segall and Pornographers albums are all great, but I’m surprised by how much I love LOSE this week.

  19. ‘Angels & Devils’ would be my pick for this spot but ‘Manipulator’ is a fantastic album, so I won’t complain too bitterly. The fact that every commentator on here is pulling for a different album shows how amazingly stacked this week has been for new music.

  20. 2014 has been a good year for rock, much more so than 2012 or 2013 I think. Ty Segall, Spoon, and War on Drugs have all been excellent.

    • I think so too! I took a road trip this weekend (to see Strand of Oaks in Denver, who were fantastic) and had a big long playlist of my favorite music from this year, and it’s been a great year for guys playing guitars.

  21. Really, really had wished that Opeth would’ve put out an album worthy of AOTW. Pale Communion is still good but pales compared to their canon. Glad to see the New Pornos back at making a full album’s worth of great music.

  22. Really glad to see the Cymbals Eat Guitars’ “LOSE” get the recognition it deserves. What an awesome piece of music! Still trying to wrap my head around the whole thing, but it’s right up there with “Lost in the Dream”.

  23. I got that feeling I used to get when I was in my younger years, of that feeling of listening to a new album the first time. Manipulator is a total package and experience. Yes, CEG album LOSE is amazing as well (It’s very very verrrrry good) but the Ty Segall is just an awesome Rock n Roll record and deserves the AOTW hands down. I can tell by my 1000 listens so far that this album was finely crafted and a ton of hard work went into making it. It has amazing production and every song on this could be a single. I’m completely satisfied and will listen to this thing a few 1000 more times. A very good year for Rock indeed.

  24. The Ty Segall album is really solid. For me it’s just a little too “Rock ‘N’ Roll”. I think I might’ve lived through too many incarnations of the garage rock sound. I’m sure purists will say this brings a bunch of new stuff to the table but to me it sounds like stuff I’ve heard many times before. Don’t get me wrong…it’s a very, very good version.

    • The tracks I have heard are really good, but seems a like a curated museum piece. I generally love those types of sounds, but sometimes they come off as too on the nose. I need to listen to it more. I kind of felt that way about the Savages songs I have heard. They sounded like the ingredients of a recipe- a super well curated recipe.

  25. Listening through Manipulator for the first time right now – wow! This is really good, easily the best album I’ve heard from him (as of “Susie Thumb”, which is where i am now), and better than I was letting myself really expect at this point. I’ve liked some of his stuff before, but this is his most consistently enjoyable for me.

  26. This album is so massive. Brilliant stuff.

  27. Very very stoked to see this. Schlitchfork’s review, like their White Fence review recently, just got me all bothered. 99% praise, compliments, then…an offhand joust and low score. Thus they no longer speak to me and will no longer be clique’d/eradicated from browser. Then the Stolling Rone 3 star of this made me want to…well what did I expect right? God forbid this man Ty stop playing guitar and tambourine-strapped bass drum+hi hat and take actual flight. The depth of engagement of this album (especially the bass guitar tone shout out…which is just massive even on shitty compu speakers) was a delight to read and cemented this site from also-click to most-click’d for me. I’ve always loved the crowd here and look forward a more active engagement. A good long weekend to all blasting this.

  28. Holy fuck. This album is amazing. I finally might break my old speakers.

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