Hardly has the dust settled on his last escapade, and Ty Segall, a Californian dreamer and one of the most prolific creators in all of rock ‘n’ roll, returns once again. Just for context, Segall’s 2021 saw not one but two new music collections. The first was harmonizera heartbreaking rock album released without warning or fanfare in August 2021. The second extended Ty’s in short, even further – film music for directors Matt Yoka Tourbillon, a documentary following the Los Angeles News Service, whose roving helicopter tracked wrongdoings in Los Angeles’ sprawl during the 1980s and 1990s. Time for a break? Of course not.
Seasoned Ty observers will know that it tends to follow a zig with a zag, and so it is with Hi. It basically does what harmonizer not. Where this album was electric, synthetic and raw, Hi is largely acoustic, rustic, and imbued with a kind of offbeat, fairy-like beauty. Where harmonizer felt like the work of a full live band, Hi bears the mark of a record made alone in isolation, or something close to it. Ty’s album covers always do a good job of obliquely communicating their content, and this is no exception. A black and white photo taken by Ty’s wife Denée on a hiking trail near their Topanga Canyon home, it mischievously depicts him balancing on a tree branch, holding his guitar in front of him like a talisman. Think of a quirky flower child, or perhaps a mischievous forest spirit, spinning puzzles in exchange for safe passage.
This is not a brand new mode for segall. Written and recorded at Ty’s own home studio, harmonizerin 2020, it has 10 songs and a relatively meager 34 minutes, making it a track with albums like goodbye bread and Sleeper: song-driven affairs that emphasize a cohesive sound and style, as opposed to the pinball eclecticism of freedom goblin Where Manipulator.
Hi bring some Ty’s primordial influences in the foreground. His catalog includes a rich vein of songs that channel Mark Bolan – think Manipulatorit is “You don’t wanna know (Sue)”Where Sleeperit is “Sweet CC”. by Bolan the influence – especially the psychedelic-leaning people of his first Tyrannosaurus Rex incarnation – is written all over Hi. Another touchstone could be Donovan – “Blue” seems to channel his whimsical performance and his taste for surreal lyrical flights. Yet, as always, Ty wears its influences in a casual way: tried on as a cashmere shirt or a feather boa, then thrown away.
Is it, perhaps, Ty’s containment album? Certainly, there are moments that seem to capture something of the experience of the pandemic – a life spent within four walls, the crazy effects of isolation, the days charted in rhythm from morning to night. Some songs refer to home as a place of safety and comfort. “Hello” opens the album in an atmosphere of dazed romantic happiness. “Hello ma’am/We can stay inside/The world is where we both lay/On the pillows we’re fine”, Ty sings in a sleepy falsetto before layering his multitrack voice in a sort of dawn chorus. Elsewhere, the atmosphere is more curdled and strange. “Saturday part 2” begins with a mournful scene:In a room we wait / Living behind closed doors / Singing only flat and painted drywall / And concrete floors…”. But suddenly the guitars start to bite, the drums kick in, and halfway through the song, a saxophone solo from a longtime collaborator Mikal Cronin lifts the song to a higher plane. At times like this, you can visualize Ty sitting at home, using music to get out of boredom and into a new reality.
A pervasive atmosphere of isolation makes it one of the Ty’s most introspective albums. Inside there are intimate love lullabies; songs that descend into rabbit holes of ruthless self-doubt and self-examination; lyrics that reflect on the idea of changing to make life easier, or to please another. I want to start again, but who would I be? / All the mistakes I’ve made are the reason I’m mehe sings “More”. But segall isn’t one to play things completely straight, so these sorts of ruminations are peppered with twists of artifice and sudden impositions of surreal imagery. “Don’t you feel better/When you wear my cement sweater?” sings Ty on “Cement”, a track that somehow sounds weirder every time you listen to it. The voice is crisply enunciated and full of curious, arching mannerisms; chord changes have a spiky, unresolved quality that ensures any true comfort just dangles out of reach; and the track ends with Ty’s voice layered in cascading harmonies, la-la-la-ing itself silly.
Even where Hi grappling with difficult feelings, there is a craftsmanship and beauty in the music that transcends all disappointing vibes. Ty handles most of the percussion himself in his characteristic swing, ringo-ish style. “More” and “Distraction” have a sense of flexible and free momentum which pushes them towards the folk-jazz link currently occupied by figures like Ryley Walker. And there is a highlight of the album in the form of “Do not lie”a deep cut by the Oakland-based lo-fi band The coats. Ty has a past form in delivering cover versions that rip the original into a new one, but here it takes the opposite route. The original’s paisley-hued garage is transformed into a delicate acoustic anthem that accentuates lyrics about how to overcome bad and sad times. It’s a gem.
And although it’s not the album’s playing style, here and there Hi pebbles. The title track is the record’s only real barnstormer – three quick minutes of glamorous choruses, churning riffs and thunderous caveman drums that are enjoyable, and not just for its explosive incongruity. “You look”meanwhile, is a hangover from the harmonizer sessions. A group effort that sees Ty assisted by Charles Mothart on the battery and Ben Boye on Rhodes, his folk-rock piano sports a searing fuzz guitar solo, but also a beautiful “Dear Prudence”-style coda that spins around like a ballerina in a music box.
Then yes, Hi is part of Ty’s leanest, most focused albums to date. But the closer you get, the more you spot its idiosyncrasies. Sincere and playful, bure and surreal, depressed and madly in love: here is Ty Segall in all its marvelous contradictions. After nine titles where the walls sometimes seem to close, at the closing “Distraction” the door opens. “So sing me a distraction / I wanna know what’s going on / We’ll take a walk outside“, he sings. And with a sweet goodbye the record ends, and Ty is gone – in search of his next adventure. Where will we find him next? Who knows, but past evidence suggests we won’t be waiting long.