(Drag City; 2011)
By Maura McAndrew | 1 July 2011
In rock ’n’ roll, reigning oneself in, mellowing out, is often interpreted as losing one’s edge, as growing old, complacent. While rock music seems to thrive on the frenetic energy of youth, and its accompanying restlessness and tension—as Woody Allen once joked, “If I get too mellow, I ripen and then rot” (and one could argue he’s done just that)—the rules of rock ’n’ roll aren’t hard and fast.
Because certain musicians—the late Jay Reatard comes to mind—who once mellowed (even slightly) have managed to turn exciting and brash careers into all the more complex explorations of their talent. And though he’s still a pretty fresh face, Ty Segall falls into this camp—on his latest effort Goodbye Bread, Segall demonstrates growth far beyond the DIY freak-outs of not-so-long-past work like 2010’s Melted. After a career-launching stint fronting garage rockers the Epsilons, Segall has churned out a prodigious amount of material in a short span; namely, five solo albums since 2008. Impressive no doubt, but anything turned out so frantically is bound to show some seams, and appropriately Segall’s never been known for his attention to detail. But on Goodbye Bread, his most accessible work to date, he refocuses his energy in the service of stronger, less disposable songwriting.
Despite its brevity, Goodbye Bread feels well paced; each of its ten songs has a memorable hook, and many grope their way along unexpectedly, shifting and swerving and detouring delightedly. Its sound is still that of by-the-books garage rock, but not much in the way of outright guitar noise either. Rather, Segall strums with an ever-present bounce, cutting loose for a righteous solo here or there. Most of the tracks stick pretty close to each other, treading in the satisfyingly off-kilter major-minor changes characteristic of 1960s psychedelic rock, but Segall keeps things interesting by pushing his songs to evolve and travel a great distance in a short time while maintaining his latent lilt. Highlight “I Can’t Feel It” begins innocuously but soon opens into a sweeping refrain. Likewise, “I Am With You” starts in an almost ugly, flat monotone while Segall monotonously rattles off a list of stuff he’s bored with: “I’m sick of you / I’m sick of me / I’m sick of everything I can’t see.” But just when this is borderline intolerable, guitars start to groove and the song hooks into a Donovan-style melody, ultimately tempering Segall’s retro bent with some playful sneer.
“Goodbye Bread,” the odd, drowsy track that opens the record, also seems refreshingly unpredictable. Like contemporaries the Fresh & Onlys, Segall departs from the standard ’60s garage howl and wanders into fuzzier, less defined margins of the genre. A British Invasion/Britpop sound mars (Ha! Get it?) quite a few of these tracks, and in the way it twists into woozy psychedelia, “Goodbye Bread”’s closest kin might be Blur, but Blur in those halcyon days of Blur (1997) and 13 (1999). “Hello Monday / Goodbye bread,” Segall sings over stop-start guitars—rough around the edges, but it has a murky depth that can’t help but engage the listener. Like “Beetlebum” before it, it’s simultaneously infectious and strangely unsettling. Which is a combination holding true for “You Make the Sun Fry,” a throwback which would be perhaps just a Small Faces reproduction if it didn’t have such a delightful undercurrent of strangeness—if it wasn’t a bit too stoned and heat-stroked.
Goodbye Bread specializes in this kind of twisted subtlety; no longer content letting loose and letting the detritus fall where it may, Segall has crafted a record both familiar and surprising, both sunny and spooky. The push and pull between these contradictions is at the heart of the record, and it’s a delicate balance that Segall’s carefully cultivated. Ostensibly, he may have mellowed some, but the verve that has driven his work simply manifests itself differently, behind the scenes, while staying sharper and more forceful than ever.