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.