Punk Virtuouso Embraces Experimentation
The hardest-working man in garage-rock is back, this time with an ambitiously dense tour-de-force of genre-hopping and sonic explorations. Fans of Ty Segall will know him as the prolific and slightly deranged gold-locked youth from Laguna Beach, CA, but on his latest album, Freedom’s Goblin, Segall’s maturity as a songwriter shines through the hardened exterior of the young, bygone, Ty.
Clocking in at 19 songs, Freedom’s Goblin casts a wide net and at certain points feels like it represents an all-encompassing look at Segall’s past work. The thirty-year old rocker has released ten full-length solo albums in as many years, each album marking an idiosyncratic moment in the artist’s career: there’s 2012’s surf-garage classic, Twins; the somber and introspective, mostly acoustic, tunes on 2013s Sleeper; and the jangly lo-fi noise of 2010s Melted—these are merely a few stops on Segall’s career, with the blaring omissions of collaboration projects with Tim Presley of White Fence and an album of T. Rex covers, called Ty Rex (2015), not to mention his other project, Fuzz. Segall’s oeuvre is about as diverse as they come, full of, at times, clashing Tydentities and Tydeas.
This album is all about artistic freedom, and in many ways, Segall has enjoyed a great deal of it throughout his career. Freedom’s Goblin, at seventy-five minutes long, is Segall’s longest album and his seventh on the label Drag City. Backed by the solid chops of Mikal Cronin on bass and saxophone, Charles Moothart on drums, Emmett Kelly on rhythm guitar, and Ben Boye on piano (all of whom have extensive recording careers of their own), Segall’s status of garage-psych powerhouse has been lifted to a legend in the genre.
For Freedom’s Goblin, 2018s Ty Segall has assumed even more of a “third-eye” approach to production, jumping from the honky-tonk southern rock of “Fanny Dog,” to the Radiohead-esque “Rain,” to the Hot Chocolate cover of “Every 1’s A Winner”—all within a matter of the album’s opening suite. There are more ballad-like jams, such as “My Lady’s On Fire,” “Cry Cry Cry,” and “I’m Free,” and jazzy-disco tunes, like “The Main Pretender” and “Despoiler of Cadaver.” Put simply, there’s enough material on here—both in regard to genre and in regard to sheer quantity—to satisfy any listener.
Segall isn’t the only one with newfound freedom. The listener is also strongly urged to interact independently with the tracklist: One could approach the work track-by-track, or by grouping the individual tracks into like genres—the album liner note asks, “What will you use it for when you listen?” The “drop of a needle,” it seems, is strongly encouraged.
Starting at the beginning is always a safe bet: album opener, “Fanny Dog,” is a tribute to Segall’s pet and in a lot of ways plays like vintage Segall. Equipped with a loose, jangly, song structure and a looming feeling that the song could plunge into never-ending darkness, this song feels like grown-up Segall at his best.
The saxxed-out bliss of “My Lady’s On Fire” fades beautifully into the monolithic overdrive of “Alta,” before the busy dancehall-punk of “Meaning” comes into full view. By far the album’s heaviest song, “Meaning” features Segall’s wife on vocals amidst a raucous fuzz-fest of a chorus. “You Say All The Nice Things” is a breath of fresh air and clarity, a full-bodied nod to Marc Bolan.
Freedom’s Goblin’s back half is just as strong as its first. With a loose reference to The Band, “The Last Waltz” is Segall’s foray into ¾ time: a giddy, circuitous, tune with the mantra line, “soon, soon, I’ll be with you soon,” repeated into infinity. The songwriting of this middle section of songs, including “Prison,” “Talkin 3,” and “The Main Pretender,” is precise and complex, equipped with syncopated drum rhythms and nods to Marc Bolan and jazz-funk outfits—elements to Segall’s palette that had until this point remained mostly dormant.
Album closer, “And Goodnight” plays like a slow-burning star, light years away. Bearing resemblance to the driving southern rock of Neil Young, “And Goodnight” is a triumphant statement of Segall’s honed endurance. Even right up until the very end of a seventy-five-minute record, Segall still has the ability to forge an epic sound, unlike any other song on the album.
For those new and old to Ty Segall, Freedom’s Goblin is an incredible departure from mainstream music; and chances are there’s an enjoyable song on here for everyone. For those who know Ty’s music well, this album will most likely land somewhere in your top three—its scale, production, and accessibility make it one of the best records of 2018 so far, whether or not you’ve even heard of Segall before.