Ty Segall
Promo: Denee Segall / Pitch Perfect PR

Ty Segall’s ‘Three Bells’ Deepens His Groove

If you like Ty Segall, you’ll get plenty more of what you like about him on Three Bells along with drums used as a compositional tool and a rhythmic one.

Three Bells
Ty Segall
Drag City
26 January 2024

Ty Segall has been purveying his punkish art glam for more than 15 years now, so there’s plenty we can reasonably presume from each successive album—and there have been many of them. The question is always, “What’s different about this one?”

On the new Three Bells, two things stand out. One is that Segall played nearly all the drum tracks—in fact, most of this album’s instruments—and very conspicuously used the drums as a compositional tool as well as a rhythmic one. The opening track, a slow and languorous number called “The Bell”, wastes no time surprising us with a lurching fill right in its first few bars, disrupting the tune and putting our ears on notice to listen closely to Segall’s beats. Sure enough, the song erupts into double-time after about 90 seconds. Another 90 seconds later, the track transmutes into a third section whose hiccupping meter seems to include 14/4 time.

“The Bell” runs about five minutes altogether, and it is followed by the nearly seven-minute “Void”, in which Segall’s funky drum part supplies the energy for what is otherwise an almost hypnotically droning tune; after a while, it indulges a quasi-free-jazz workout. Abruptly halfway through, though, “The Void” turns into a totally different song, reverting to the same slowish 4/4 rock time that opened “The Bell”. This could fit onto a Pink Floyd album—or, more obviously, onto an earlier Segall album like 2014’s Manipulator, his expansive and accomplished double LP that substantially raised the bar and made it clear we were dealing with a major talent.

Speaking of double LPs, “The Bell” and “Void” take Ty Segall’s listener on an extensive and restless ride in just the first 12 minutes of this 65-minute whopper. The album smooths out a little after that, settling in for 13 more tracks that don’t stray far from what Segall knows and does best. Although the drumming does take his music to some interesting places (particularly on “Denée” and “The Watcher”), those places are still mostly spoken for by Segall’s fuzzed-out electric and adroit acoustic guitars, his faux-Brit semi-falsetto, and the presiding influence of T. Rex. If you like Ty Segall, you’ll get plenty more of what you like about him on Three Bells.

But even what you like can wear thin, especially on a double LP. That’s why the placement of “Move”, Three Bells’ seventh track, is so adept. Just when the album is starting to tire, “Move” gives us an almost Krautrock backing track over which Segall’s wife Denée provides vocals—not singing but a spoken-word lyric set whose repetitive matter-of-factness (“Moving you come to me / I move through / I move to you too / Together we can move”) is perfectly expressed by her robotic delivery. It’s a welcome departure.

It’s also the second thing that stands out about Three Bells. Denée Segall has long been a frequent presence in her husband’s music—as well as he in hers, and both of them in theirs together (e.g., their band C.I.A., for which she’s the frontwoman). On Three Bells, though, Denée not only provides vocals on “Move” but is also the titular subject of two other songs and the credited co-lyricist on five. Both muse and collaborator, her increased prominence here raises this engaging question: who else since John and Yoko have been as clearly, lovingly, and publicly partnered in pop music? Delaney and Bonnie? Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan in Yo La Tengo? Let’s have more of this in any case. (And perhaps less of the video for “Eggman”, which, be warned, you cannot unsee.)

Enjoyable as Three Bells is, it soon sent me back to Manipulator, whose higher expression of this same sort of stuff I still prefer. Nor do any of these 15 tracks include one that rivals, say, “Orange Color Queen” for sheer hook quality or hummability—this is a groove album, not a songs album, albeit a very good one. Still and all, Ty Segall is deeply steeped in a wide range of music, as evinced by his 2021 six-song cover EP of selections from the great Nilsson Schmilsson and, going back a little further, his delightfully weird rendition of Eddy Grant’s “Diversion” on Emotional Mugger (2016).

That whole album, in fact, with its agitated mood, abrasive sound, and quasi-conceptual trappings—Segall has a Media Studies degree, don’t forget, and he loves David Bowie, that most creative of conceptualists—suggested that he had more on his mind than he had yet revealed and that he might be climbing an interesting hill or two on his career path. It wasn’t out of the question that he could achieve breakthrough big-time success.

Since then, though, Ty Segall has generally retreated, lyrically and musically. That’s no surprise given the pandemic, which sent most of the world’s artists scurrying for both physical and creative safety, but the shockwaves of Covid were powerfully political and socially deranging. Someone as capable and visionary as Segall has the sensitivity and the intensity to tell us more about the “American nightmare” he invoked on Emotional Mugger. Could he still emerge as a voice of his musical generation? Probably. Or is he content to keep purveying domestic bliss with Denée and his dogs? In the meantime, while we wait to find out where one of the most productive rock musicians of his time will be bold enough to venture next, his drumming on Three Bells has me excited for a Segall album of Parliament-Funkadelic covers.

RATING 7 / 10