Music

Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin: Reverse Shark Attack

There's something in the garage.


Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin

Reverse Shark Attack

Label: In the Red
US release date: 2013-01-22
UK release date: 2013-02-04
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Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin have both released solo albums incorporating noisy elements, but this collaboration takes those impulses and pushes them further than they have gone so far. Cronin's 2011 self-titled debut, despite containing plenty of thrashy guitar, treads closely to indie-rock expectations and relies on his thin and unschooled voice to carry most of the songs. Ty Segall (formerly of White Fence) has released numerous albums in a short time, and his latest full-length, 2012's Twins, was a raucous affair indeed, incorporating elements of punk, garage rock, and surf music into a satisfying stew. Now these two musicians have released Reverse Shark Attack, a record in which they seem almost to dare each other to take the raunchy garage sound ever further.

Reverse Shark Attack begins with the Iggy-esque squeal and hyperdistorted skronk of "I Wear Black," a satisfying burst of fuzz and caterwauling that lasts 2:14 and is over all too soon. In fact, the first six songs here are less than 2:29 each, with four of them clocking in under two minutes. Short sharp shocks, in other words. This is compensated for somewhat with the last two tunes, which clock in at four and ten minutes respectively. More on them in a minute.

The record's opening salvo consists of a barrage of strong, garagey, raw-throated and extremely low-fi tunes: "I Wear Black", "Drop Dead Baby", "High School" and "Ramona" are all bristling bundles of fuzzy guitar, thumping drums and raspy vocals. There's plenty of reverb on those vocals too, obscuring most of whatever's being said—probably not a huge issue—and the overall tone is muddy and distorted. Guitar solos (or any other kind) are thin on the ground, and the drums sound like they're being played out back in a shed somewhere. The tempos are varied, from the chug-a-lug of the opener to the more frenzied strains of "Doctor Doctor." Then again, with this much distortion, everything sounds more or less frenzied.

About the time you're wishing the songs would last more than, oh, eighty seconds or so, the band hits you with "Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk", a near epic at four minutes. Listeners hoping for a major shift in approach will be disappointed, however; the song shifts rhythm a time or two and there is a brief bridge section in the middle, but otherwise no change in style or approach is evident. It's all thrashing drums, fuzzed-out guitar, and vocal effects; essentially, one of the band's two-minute songs played for four minutes. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Just sayin'.

The closing track, "Reverse Shark Attack," opens up the template and perhaps points a way forward for the band. (Because really, how many albums full of 90-second tunes called "Bikini Babes" do you need?) "Reverse Shark Attack" is 10 minutes 22 seconds, and immediately opens with a moderate tempo and guitars that are being played rather than strangled to within an inch of their lives. Although still a rocking song, and one that incorporates those vocals layered with effects, it also shows a level of songwriting sophistication that is all the more refreshing in comparison with what has come before. Heck, there are even acoustic-guitar sections, and portions of vocals that are intelligible. And halfway through, it just seems to shut down altogether before starting over again, building to a suitable melt-down of a conclusion.

In sum, then, this is a surprisingly complete album—almost a journey from the primal depth of Stooge-like caveman thumping to, well, something slightly less primordial. Rock and roll will never die, Neil Young says. Here's evidence he might be right.

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If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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