It’s been a pretty good couple of years for Ty Segall. The once under-the-radar garage-rock guru has stepped out into the light with a series of great releases. His decidedly poppier pysch record Goodbye Bread came out on Drag City last year to basically universal praise, followed by a collected singles compilation that let the world know what Segall had been up to in his lo-fi rock and roll cave for years, and then earlier this year Segall recorded Hair, a collaborative album with White Fence’s Tim Presley. Each of these records—and the ones that came before them—are great, and no two sound alike.
So it’s no real surprise that Slaughterhouse sounds very much like a Ty Segall record but also like no Ty Segall record before. Recording as the Ty Segall Band, this marks the first time Segall has recorded with his touring band—Mikal Cronin, Charlier Moothart, and Emily Rose Epstein—and the difference is palpable. You can feel the group’s chemistry, the blistering live energy, and that strange alchemy that comes when like-minded players work together. It’s also fitting that the album is coming out on In the Red, a label long devoted to great rock and roll records and the crunchiest guitars money (or lack there of) can buy.
After the more spacey psych tunes on Hair, Slaughterhouse is exactly what its title implies: a tensed-up, massacre of thrashing guitars and pounding drums. The opening track “Death” starts with squeals of feedback and bent-to-snapping notes, the sound of a band turning up the distortion, seeing how messy it can get, before they launch their attack. When the song kicks in, the pay-off is immediate. The guitars and bass rumble with a sharp, lean angle to them under Segall’s echoed, chilling vocals. He shouts later in the record, but the deadpan vocal harmonies here play nicely against the unwieldy grind behind them.
The song is no red herring. “I Bought My Eyes” may seem to turn down the fuzz with those first few relatively clean, reverbed chords and those downright sweet vocals, but it’s a brief respite before the song erupts in a blistering riff-fest. This isn’t crushing chords, but instead lacerating runs of notes and a solo that threatens to break nearly every string, bringing the tension of the song to a stirring peak. Later songs like the sped-up shuffle of “The Tongue” or the sludge-rock hammering of “Wave Goodbye” show the band’s versatility. They’re not hiding behind speed and energy at all here. There’s nothing amateurish about these fuzzed-out tunes. “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart”, one of the most sprinting songs on the record, succeeds not on pure inertia but on sweet, Wilson-esque backing vocals and a lilting vocal melody pitting against those sharp guitar hooks. Even when things get unruly, as on the squealing, screaming “That’s the Bag I’m In”, all that untethered volume plays against a steady, rolling bass line. All the way through Slaughterhouse you can hear the order under the storm, so even if this turns away from the catchy accessibility of Goodbye Bread, it’s still yet one more example of Segall’s ever refining pop sensibilities.
So yes, these songs can earworm their way into your head, but make no mistake they live on sheer volume and brash tones, and the guitars carry the load on that front. Sure Segall screams his ways through the title track or “Mary Ann”, but those moments actually seem to press a bit, like they’re trying too hard to get loud. That’s because it’s the brittle tension and white-noise squall of the guitars—whether their chords are surrounding us or their riffs are piercing through us—that makes all this racket work. It’s convincing because, for all its fury, it’s carefully controlled, so when the album takes the last ten minutes, on “Fuzz War”, to bring back the noisemaking that started “Death”, to fill our ears with crashing cymbals and formless distortion and endless feedback, it feels like too much, like a tacked-on indulgence that does nothing the rest of the record doesn’t do better. It’s a fitting coda for a moment, a minute to let the ripples of all these tunes wash over you, but it quickly becomes overkill. That said, Slaughterhouse is still a hell of a rock album, one that shows us the speedy evolution of Segall as a songwriter and gives us a convincing document of his touring band’s energy. It’s the rare artist that can pin down their own sound without repeating themselves, especially in the limited elements of guitar-bass-drums rock. But Segall has done just that, and Slaughterhouse is his most volatile shift yet.
// Notes from the Road
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