Whenever distorted vocals and fuzzed-out jangly guitars enter the picture, a knee-jerk Nuggets reference typically follows. But for Ty Segall, this reference point hardly seems sufficient to describe his music. He releases albums and singles in quick succession, a catalog that thus far shows real progression, a point of view being formed, and an artist taking more risks and incorporating a wider range of influences into the mix. And in stepping beyond the limiting confines of the one-man band, he's giving his sound a depth and complexity that sets him apart from a sea of bands strip-mining '60s garage-rock tropes.
Segall joined garage-rock beacon Goner Records in 2009, where he released Lemons, a catchy sucker-punch of a record that created some buzz. Melted -- also courtesy of Goner -- picks up where Lemons left off; the differences between the two albums sounds like a very natural progression instead of a lateral move. Segall continues to fuse '60s (and '90s) garage rock, punk, rockabilly, noise rock, etc. together -- making Melted a very apt title for this record.
Despite the album's lo-fi, noisy sound, the song structure is all pop. At times it evokes some of the better qualities of the millennial major label-helmed "garage rock revolution" bands, especially The Vines. Although Melted features a few token "experimental" tracks, Segall is, at heart, a pop songwriter. Replace the lo-fi techniques with slick production, and most of Melted's tracks could be radio-friendly hits in any decade. With its endearing syncopated handclaps and shout-along melody, "Girlfriend" certainly falls into this camp, as does "Sad Fuzz," which features a descending harmonic scale chorus straight out of the Lennon-McCartney playbook.
The cleverly named experimental track "Mike D's Coke," doesn't fare as well; in burying the melody under a pile of noise, "Coke" sounds less like a musician taking a calculated risk and more like someone stepping out of his comfort zone just to be weird for weirdness' sake. In general, not bad move to make, but certainly not the move that best showcases Segall's songwriting talents. The title track uses these same elements more adeptly, pushing distorted vocals into a wall of shoegazy feedback while still preserving the integrity of the melody.
At its most mediocre, garage rock is a pretty one-note sound -- there's not a great deal of variety in rhythms, riffs, or tone. But Segall adeptly uses his limited lineup to create songs with a great deal of textural range. "Caesar" is a great example of this gift, garnishing an acoustic stomp with a bluesy piano solo -- an unexpected (and kind of ingenious) move. "Finger" applies the same changeup principle to vocals, Segall softly cooing for almost a full minute before drop-kicking into gear, showing off his (arguably) perfect garage rock voice -- all youthful brattiness, but capable of conveying real emotional range as well.
In promoting Melted, Segall has been frequently quoted for saying this album sounds like "cherry cola, Sno-Cones, and taffy." It might sound like a cheeky, one-off line, but it's actually pretty evocative of Melted's most notable -- as well as slightly lackluster -- qualities. In the same way that chasing Sno-Cones and taffy with a Cherry Coke is just too damn much of the same flavor, at times Melted falls into the familiar lo-fi production trap: lack of variety in sound and tempo. However, at its best moments, Melted's songs employ playful riffs and weighty guitars to create textures as varied as the ones in Segall's sweet treat analogy.
Low fidelity can be a crutch or a veil to hide behind for some artists, but not for Ty Segall. The San Francisco native already has several albums to his name, each filled with his warped take on surf rock and scuzzy punk. Yet Segall (who formerly sang for Epsilons) knows to write the hooks before adding the fuzz, and he's honed his skills through years of writing and touring both as a solo artist and as a part of an ensemble. On Melted, Segall opted for a cleaner sound, but don't worry: The record's first single, "Caesar," is still brash, albeit a bit sweeter than past efforts.
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