Manipulator (Drag City)
I’m not sure if Manipulator is the eighth, ninth or 13th album in six years by psychedelic wunderkind Ty Segall. Numbers get fuzzy at my age, especially when you also take into consideration the myriad cassette, vinyl and compact disc collaborations the 27 year-old California native has released under different guises (Fuzz, Sic Alps, Party Fowl, The Ty Segall Band – not to be confused with Ty Segall, the band – The Perverts, et al).
Why do I mention his age? Because I’m an over-the hill hack who can barely muster the energy to type out words like “fuzztone” and “riffage” let alone write and record a bazillion new songs that recreate, ever-so-lovingly, the tone and energy of a Pebbles Vol. 6 or a Kinda Kinks, that’s why. But enough about me; you’re wondering if Ty’s new double platter is the dog’s bollocks, not whether some word jockey is having a mid-life crisis in the back pages of an art magazine. Alternatively, you might ponder whether the latest disc is a suitable entry into the oeuvre that can fill a wall of record bins.
A distillation of his previous work, be it the Blue Cheer ear-punch of Fuzz or the insular Skip Spence trip of the acoustic material, Manipulator finds Segall balancing the garage punk aesthetic with a flowing melodic inventory of West Coast weirdo mixture of sun and clouds. Segall embodies these vintage styles with more affinity than someone who came into this world the same year as The Joshua Tree has any right.
While that alone garners him an ‘E’ for effort, the fact is, when you hear a ‘real’ band blasting through their repertoire in a studio, sounding tight and tour-seasoned (honourable mention, of course, to Seagall’s compadres, drummer Emily Rose Epstein and guitarist Charles Moothart), amps mic’d within the boundaries of a 1968 sonic palette, it makes you wonder what the point is of writing about it. Rock’n’roll is fun and writing is hard work.
As the album chugs along to halfway through its 56-minute running time, I wonder: is there a discrepancy between the “less is more” approach and the sheer overall volume of Ty Segall’s output? What was left on the cutting room floor? Not every track is a gem. Should it have been whittled down to a single length? Am I too old to write about what the kids are into these days? Stylistically, this music is older than me, older than my elder brother even. If I could travel back in time and play this record for someone in 1968, it wouldn’t cause a warp in the space-time continuum.
But is it retro? That 1980s buzzword from the first ’60s revival is no longer relevant. Back then, every obscure, low-budget, regional, vanity press, garage punk reissue of a reissue had been unearthed, yet those of us waiting to discover the next forgotten Wimple Winch or Q65 will never be sated. Well there isn’t any more. It’s all been dug up. That is why it rules that these ‘millennials’ sidestep the usual doubts that block GenX Debbie Downers like myself from creating such joyous rapture, just because it isn’t necessarily original.
Of course, most of the people who made the original versions of this music are dead now, so I should consider myself lucky. We all should. And we should be grateful that folks like Mr. Segall exist and are doing the saintly work of filling our lives with more and more vintage organ sounds and Pretty Things pastiche to which we would wake and bake to, if we weren’t so damn old.