Sunday, August 11, 2019

album review: 'first taste' by ty segall

I'll be very honest, I thought Ty Segall had run out of ways to surprise me. 

Granted, for a guy who cranks out as many albums as he does, I was open to the possibility, but even with the return to form that was Freedom's Goblin last year, I really thought that was testing the boundaries of how far Ty Segall was going to venture out of his comfort zone: ground himself in garage rock scuzz, tack on some added instrumentation venturing into other subsets of proto-punk, early metal, and even glam around that era, but likely not venture much further. I thought he'd probably stay in this territory, maybe tighten up the writing and production, and he'd have enough fertile ground to harvest for... well, given how quickly he releases albums, another three years or so.

So I'll admit when I heard that his newest album First Taste was ditching guitars altogether... well, it reminded me at first of when news broke the Mountain Goats were leaving guitars behind for Goths, but even then singer-songwriter material like that had proven ground to expand, whereas I'm not sure I can count many garage rock acts that don't have a guitar lead! So I had no unearthly clue how he was going to tack on strings and keyboards to make this work, but I definitely wanted to hear it - so okay, what came out of First Taste?

You know, this is the sort of 'experimental' project where I just wind up frustrated that it doesn't work for me, because in essence, if you've heard a middling Ty Segall album this decade you'll have heard on a compositional level exactly what First Taste is giving you... just this time paired with more jangling, fractured textures and a lingering sense that Segall slid back a step again after the more tuneful and striking Freedom's Goblin. At least with a project like Emotional Mugger that I didn't even really like there was a disconcerting thematic weirdness with a defiantly unique flavour - First Taste unfortunately just reminds me of Ty Segall's expected formula and ideas stripped to the bones and then lacking richer tones to give them body.

And it doesn't help matters that most of the tones we do get can be questionable, so let's start there - because as I already specified, if you've heard a middle-of-the-road Ty Segall project, there's little compositionally that's all that different from his usual material. In other words, he's writing garage rock with a splash of psychedelic texture which manifests here as layered vocal overdubs, the occasional piano flourish, and a horn section that doesn't mind playing for minor keys and dissonance because this is Ty Segall and he has zero problems stepping into that territory at the expense of a better hook. But Segall often chose meaty, noisy guitar lines to fit at the centerpiece of these compositions, which allowed for more striking bass interplay or could better blend with the percussion or at least complimented his nasal, braying tones, or masked how rough his falsetto can be. It was the glue in the compositions... and yet when you scrap that away to replace it with synth fuzz that doesn't have the same blending or body or just drop in more developed, textured percussion or acoustic grooves, the cracks become a lot more evident. And if he was aiming for First Taste to hit as hard as earlier projects just with a different palette... yeah, that doesn't happen, mostly because the bass grooves don't have the same body and reinforcement, and the drums just don't pack the same oomph or cracking presence. And again, the problem isn't so much the tones plugging the hole are bad so much as they are inconsistent - the grinding fuzz and sputtering low-end of 'Taste' might initially make you feel like your skull is melting, but there's potential to it, and along the deeper rickety groove of 'The Arms' that breaks into the noisier sizzle, the piano-accented horn screeching, tinny rattle of the strumming, and developed low-end of 'Radio' and 'Lone Cowboys' show exactly how this sort of approach has potential, even if the latter case takes too long to get going. But then there are the tonal choices that just leave me cold - like whenever the woodwinds and flutes show up - or actively don't flatter anything; I get that 'I Worship The Dog' is trying to be dark and sleazy, but that lead nasal squonk doesn't get any less annoying even with meatier grind around it. And that's not counting songs like 'Ice Plant' that feel like three mediocre ideas mashed together, or the choppy overlong groove broken by blaring horns on 'Self Esteem', or how 'When I Met My Parents Pt.1' sounds basically unfinished. Hell, even the songs I like don't rise to the best Segall has released, or in the case of 'The Fall' are basically trying to rely on percussive energy over a fully-fleshed out composition - why else is that extended drum solo there?

And you know, if I felt the lyrics or ideas being explored were all that compelling or fleshed out, that'd be one thing, but the more listens I gave First Taste, the more I felt the acrid self-awareness and sarcasm wasn't really redeeming this. It's obvious early on that Segall is aware he's subverting or challenging the audience expectations, and that it's probably not going to be a pleasant result... which he then proceeds to mock the audience with faux-submissive jibes like on 'Whatever' and 'I Worship The Dog'. And in a sense I can't begrudge him where his inspiration takes him - 'I Sing Them' is a prime example of him not really apologizing, and a song like 'Radio' highlights how the industry can make anyone slaves of trends or the machine... which I'm not sure I remotely buy coming from Ty Segall, who has never really had hits or consistent radio presence, so this line of attack falls very flat. Now of course there are moments of self-doubt and questioning - Segall has always been very conscious of human fraility and vices along cuts like 'Self Esteem' and 'When I Met My Parents Pt. 3', where he even must question his own mind, and I can appreciate a closer like 'Lone Cowboys' where he sets out his rugged, individualist path. But the meta commentary across this album has a bitter streak that doesn't help the provocation - again, this album isn't that far removed compositionally from what we'd expect from Ty Segall, but the arc of the project is a self-aware taunt, mocking the audience, and then playing the martyr until you realize he's likely not gonna get crucified en masse. 

And that's the weird thing about First Taste - yeah, I don't think it's very good, but I'm not seeing the dramatic outcry castigating this album or anywhere near the blowback Ty Segall was anticipating - hell, most folks I was talking to didn't even know it came out, much less were aware there was a change in direction. But it's not a bad listen - more misguided and underwhelming that outright terrible, which for an album trying to bait controversy might be the more worrisome indictment. And thus... eh, strong 5/10, more for the diehard fans than anyone else, and while I said I thought Ty Segall had run out of ways to surprise me, the sad thing that as a fan for years now, he just might have after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment