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Ty Segall, ‘Sleeper’ – Album Review

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Ty Segall gets labeled a throwback for his sonic links to classic garage, psych and punk music, but such reductionist criticism denies the now-Los Angeles-based musician’s originality.

And while his his influences are usually easy to pinpoint, it’s hard to find a reference for Segall’s unique spirit. He’s more prolific than any of his notable contemporaries, and the fact he’s only releasing two albums in 2013 make this something of a light year, though he’s guested on plenty of records.

Given that the market is flooded with Segall material, one might assume that each new album is just more of the same, but that hasn’t really been the case of late, with his collections growing more distinct and accomplished. ‘Goodbye Bread’ and ‘Slaughterhouse’ were both held in high regard by critics, as well as by Segall’s ever-growing fanbase. ‘Sleeper’ continues this pattern, as it still feels like an event regardless of the amount of material he’s churning out.

‘Sleeper’ also stands out in that this primarily acoustic album marks a break from his usual hair-whipping, fuzzed-out ragers. Inspired by the death of his father from cancer and the move he made from San Francisco to Los Angeles to be closer to his younger sister, the reflective, solitary nature of the music paints a more serious and melancholy picture than listeners are used to. It’s an adventurous choice for Segall to dial back the intensity as his star is rising, but it apparently felt necessary as a way to deal with his personal hardships.

As far as songwriting, ‘Sleeper’ is made up of cuts that easily land in the same psych-garage style Segall usually works in. Mostly strummed sparely, the acoustic guitar somehow makes Segall sound even more retro, at its worst recalling the most stereotypical hippified drug music from the ’60s and ’70s. This makes the standouts shine particularly bright. ‘The Man Man’ could be a Jack White song, bluesy and imbued with attitude, finishing with a true show-stopping moment when Segall pumps in the album’s sole bit of distortion and volume.

Album closer ‘The West’ might be the best song Segall has ever written. It’s a ramshackle shuffle whose acoustic format lands Segall in a new place, far outside his genre-indebted comfort zones, allowing him to make something beautiful. It’s a place Segall’s bestie Mikal Cronin wasn’t afraid to go on his recent solo album, and it might signify that these guys, now in their mid-20s, are growing out of their snotty youth and becoming songwriters with more depth and dynamic capabilities.

Segall isn’t quite as far along as Cronin in this regard, and he hopefully still has some exploring to do in that loud and thrashing vein in which he’s more comfortable. But ‘Sleeper’ shows a potential, and likely a glimpse at the future.

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