In The Red

It’s been a strange year for Ty Segall. The glut of releases is nothing new, but what that material comprised marked a few changes in the Segall’s musical world. First, there was a mining of the past in reissues of both a record by his old band, the Traditional Fools, and a originally tour-only collaboration with Mikal Cronin. Though interesting, they seemed like stop-gap stuff to fill an unusually long gap in new output from Segall. Little did we know, he was just reloading.

August saw the release of his new, excellent, and mostly acoustic solo record Sleeper, an album that fell in line with his other, more pop-based Drag City records and yet showed a surprisingly fragile side to Segall’s sound. The acoustic tracks were still layered with curious and intimate textures, but they were a far cry from the rock ‘n roll center of Twins. That rock ‘n’ roll center returns and gets twisted up into messy snags and snarls with his new band, FUZZ.

The band’s eponymous new record immediately shifts dynamics by putting Segall behind the drum kit instead of equipping him with his buzzing guitar. Though he still sings, he yields guitar to Charlie Moothart and adds Roland Cosio on bass. The trio, though slight in numbers, is punishing. There is a distinct, unique weight to these songs, and though they are propulsive and fast, they deal more in mood and expanse than much of Segall’s other work. FUZZ is, in other words, in line with expectations, but only to a point. The band’s success comes in taking expected elements and twisting them into something new.

This starts from the get-go on opener “Earthen Gate”, which seethes with feedback at its start, a kind of noise that seems shapeless and huge. But then it cuts out and comes back in again, and it feels like a recording failure until you realize it establishes a beat, a distant sonic backbone that Segall and company bloom out of. They start with ringing psych-pop space, chords ringing out into blackness, Segall’s drums shuffling along. There’s a suspense in this. You’re waiting for it to break out, but you’re not sure when. Well, it does a couple minutes in, and the Iommi-stamped hooks and slab-heavy rhythm section do not disappoint, and neither does Segall’s bleating voice.

The album never really lets up from there. “Sleight Ride” shifts into a bluesy-shuffle but is still scuzzed as all hell even if the riffs ride cleaner. “Preacher” is as close to brevity as we get here, a taut two minutes of slashing guitars and crashing drums. “Raise” manages to out-Black Keys the Black Keys but never forgets FUZZ’s own supernova density.

The shift away from punk brevity towards psych space, though, does afford the band some exploration. “What’s In My Head” builds convincingly from blue-light quiet to a stadium-sized breakdown. “Hazemaze” is a relentless six minutes, but it’s got a subtle range to it. The shift from one nasty hook to the next, the ability to work holes into the otherwise airtight beat of the track, makes it more than just another riff-fest.

Not that this need be more than that. Make no mistake, FUZZ is often excessive. Check the drum ‘n bass breakdown halfway through “Loose Sutures”, for example. But the overdriven guitars, the gut-rumbling bass, Segall’s frenetic playing — it all feels like it needs to go to eleven. This is the stuff that gets the young Jeffs and Cyruses of the world to start drafting new band names and logos in their Social Studies notebooks. Not that this is death metal, mind you, but it the kind of riffage-as-tonnage made with all the soda-fueled joy of playing along to your favorite Sabbath records in the garage. There’s something young, almost innocent, in the darkness here, something charming about FUZZ’s unabashed decision to flat-out go for it at every move.

And they want it to seem careless. But therein lies the band’s sleight of hand. This is hardly careless, hardly the playful wanking of friends playing together. They have a connection, that much is clear, but don’t mistake this for something careless. In actuality, it’s effortless. A smooth combination of songcraft, playing ability, and fearless joy. Sure, it can go too far, but it goes too far in favor of feeling, of the base response that comes from music this muscled, this catchy, this delightfully shadowed.

RATING 7 / 10