Ty Segall – ‘Sleeper’

Troubled and acoustic: unusually difficult listening from Ty

Last year was a vintage one for Ty Segall, when three albums hit in quick succession. First, the trippy, hippy Floydisms of ‘Hair’, recorded in collaboration with fellow San Franciscan White Fence; then the satanic space-punk mayhem of ‘Slaughterhouse’, recorded with the hard-rockin’ Ty Segall Band; and finally ‘Twins’, a fuzz-soaked collection of garage-psych that installed the muss-haired Segall as an icon for a New Psychedelic California. All that, plus a bunch of shows that felt like Nirvana back from the dead in tie-dye and kaftans, set to punch a third eye right in the middle of your forehead.

‘Sleeper’, though, comes with a heavy backstory. Last year, Ty’s adoptive father, the man who taught him to surf, passed away after a battle with cancer. This, and a resultant family rift, has fed into a record that forsakes fuzz-pedal abuse and endearingly inappropriate cover versions for a rather sombre acoustic approach, dreamy but with a bleak undertow.

Moments recall pre-glam Marc Bolan (‘Sweet C.C.’) or Donovan (the whimsical ‘Crazy’), but Segall is no wide-eyed flower child. True, there’s always been darkness in his songs, but here it’s in full bloom. ‘The Keepers’ plods along with lead feet, a hymn to “the dreamers” that imagines humanity as “swine”, surrounded by “smells of death”. ‘She Don’t Care’ is a pretty thing, all falsetto chorus and orchestrated strings, but it’s shot through with a Lennon-esque cynicism that makes for quite difficult listening. The 35 minutes pass like a troubled dream, and by the end you’re a little relieved.

Is ‘Sleeper’ a record about grief? It seems probable, but perhaps its issue is that it’s quite hard to feel anything throughout its running time beyond a sense of general malaise. Good news is, there’s one more Ty Segall album this year. It’s by his new supergroup Fuzz, it’s out in October, and it’s billed as “one for the burners”. In short: can’t wait.

Louis Pattison