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Review: Ty Segall Knows a Guy Who’s Tough But Sweet (It Ain’t Him) on ‘Emotional Mugger’

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: January 22, 2016
Label: Drag City

True to his not-modern music, Ty Segall promoted his latest solo album, Emotional Mugger, with several old-fashioned industry techniques. He set up a number you could call (1-800-281-2968, knock yourself out) containing an unsettling, heavy-breathing message straight out of a B-grade horror movie which began: “You’ve reached the emotional mugger hotline. I am itching to hear how I can fill the holes in your ego.” In addition, he and label Drag City sent out promo copies of the album recorded onto a VHS tape. In at least one case, this audio was paired with the visuals from the Michael Keaton/Nicole Kidman weeper My Life.

It’s always a surprise which version of Ty Segall is going to show up on a given album, and what kind of narrative he’s going to push forth. The guitarist’s last proper solo LP, Manipulator, was a relatively straightforward amalgamation of frayed grime-glam and psych-garage, while last year brought his band Fuzz’s stoneriffic sophomore LP, II, and the T. Rex covers album Ty-Rex. Sonically, Emotional Mugger lands somewhere between all of these records, maintaining the cohesion and (relatively) streamlined arrangements of Manipulator but nodding to the scuzzy ’70s hard rock of the latter two and Segall’s trademark haywire, lo-fi garage.

The zoned-out “California Hills” recalls a sludgy Alice Cooper Group tune with just a touch more glitter; “Diversion” begins with a roaring wall of fuzz and culminates with a gnarly guitar solo; and on the corrugated highlight “Breakfast Eggs,” Segall growls, “Candy I want / Want your candy.” The stormy proto-punk snarl “Candy Sam” — which ends with what sounds like a sample of a gleeful, singing kindergarten class — is the flipside: The sweets are gone, which means the fun’s also gone. “W.U.O.T.W.S.” is a cut-and-paste song that resembles a static-filled trip up and down the radio dial, while the slithering, funk-inspired “Squealer Two” is both celebratory and oily, a raconteur’s tale with a perverse wink.

All of these songs speak to the album’s overarching concept of “emotional mugging,” which addresses the consequences of digital communication overload — personal disconnection, misplaced sexual desire, emotional distance, and irreparable damage to humanity. This somewhat-disjointed philosophy adds just the right amount of friction and intrigue to Emotional Mugger, informing the music but not overwhelming it. That’s yet another testament to Segall’s continued evolution as an artist: He’s no less willing to go out on a limb — but in pursuit of his beloved candy, he is learning to rein in his more abstract impulses.