Steve Wilson. On music.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse (In the Red Records)

I’ll begin by warning mature readers of REVERBERATIONS: in the event you don’t have a sense of humor and adventure about noise and excess, advance to the previous review of Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe.

If you do, say hello to Ty.

If Goodbye Bread was Ty Segall’s orange sunshine voyage; Slaughterhouse is his STP crash. But enough about drugs.

This young Segall chap is prolific. Slaughterhouse is his fourth release since 2008’s Lemons (excluding side projects, a disc with White Fence, etc.), and far and away his, like, heaviest. The full credit is to the Ty Segall Band. The sunny-sour Chilton-isms of Bread were also, like his second solo effort Melted, a bit on the shambolic side. Segall’s pop sensibilities were rarely obscured, yet he seemed to insist on showing that he could pull a T. Rex or John Lennon solo turn, but couldn’t be bothered to tighten up his performances. Fortunately for Segall, those records were long on melody and charm, so whether his lackadaisical qualities were laziness or aesthetic didn’t matter so much.

But causal brilliance isn't what heavy rock is about. The Segall Band on Slaughterhouse is brutally tight. They hint at the Stooges Funhouse without having that band’s primitive funk moves, but they nail the acid-rock (God, what an idiotic term, but it seems to work) of other Detroit psych merchants like the Frost and SRC, and even New York’s Autosalvage.  Other reference points, maybe Hawkwind, and Blue Oyster Cult; of course Sabbath. But enough about drugs; I mean, stoner-rock bands.

In the maelstrom of the late Sixties and early Seventies there was an element of tragedy attached to music this damaged and brutal. If, as that Karl Marx fellow suggested, history appears "first as tragedy, then as farce," it's first hard not to see Slaughterhouse as farce.

But I figure that if times have changed that doesn't mean they've gotten any prettier, and besides, when made with such vigor music like this is even idiomatically compelling.

I don’t always, but in this case I’ll go track by track, partly because the pop to plunder quotient shifts consistently throughout Slaughterhouse. Things start with “Death.”  The song begins with pizzicato violins playing in close harmony. KIDDING. It starts with howling feedback and, uh, skronk. And it sounds pretty cool when you’re driving down the highway at midnight. “Death” sounds like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators without the jugs and theremins and with the guitars on Blue Cheer meets Sonic Youth mind meld.

“I Bought My Eyes” (even the title sounds kinda Roky-ish) has spooky harmonies, like some Left Banke from hell, or at least B.O.C.’s rehearsal space. Emily Rose Epstein’s drumming is equal parts drive and splatter, perfect for this music.  Segall and guitarist Charles Moothart go for shards and splinters, but harmonies, too.

I sorta thought the title track should be a short fingerpicked guitar interlude. For, you know, comic relief. Instead it sounds like Pere Ubu scoring Saw XVII. “The Tongue” is as close as anything here to Segall’s punk-pop material, not the Tacos de Lengua shred you might expect.  It sounds a little like Nirvana before they stopped having fun, too.

“Tell Me Whats (sic) Inside Your Heart” starts with some cool Renaissance Festival harmony guitar shit before morphing into, well, the Vines. And damn it, that’s okay – that Craig Nichols kid is talented. Groovy ‘oohs’ throughout, leading back into the Ren Fair, fucked up Sabs meet Tull guitar stuff.  But before it’s all over it sounds like the Nuge soloing over Radio Birdman. Crazeeee. Ended by, you guessed it, screams and this monster, descending metal riff.
Mikal Cronin’s bass introduces “Wave Goodbye,” before a guitar assault asserts.  And that Sabs thing, that’s going on here, too – track concludes with twin guitar spray from Segall and Moothart.  No metal overtones on “Muscle Man,” it’s mostly “Nuggets” vibe with post-68 blow-out guitar thrown in for good measure. Honest to God, this reminds me of half the bands I heard rehearsing when I walked through the student ghettos of Lawrence, Kansas in 1970, shades of the Burlington Express, baby (later the Wizard from Kansas … album on Mercury, check’em out).

What follows is the weirdest Fred Neil cover ever. The Segall Band’s take on “The Bag I’m In” is what would happen if the Stooges had decided to do the Bleecker Street Songbook instead of “Death Trip” in London in 1972. And then … Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah (Diddy)” – well, almost. The band’s assault on Bo Diddley features the guitarists squeezing out some ooze that sounds like Ron Asheton playing with himself on “Down on the Street” before collapsing into chaos and Segall proclaiming “fuck this fucking song.” Hey punk, next time practice your stinkin’ Bo Diddley, huh?

“Mary Ann” is a bit of an anomaly here, a driving pop-rocker, longer on “Sister Ray’ surge than metallic doom.

The last ten minutes of so of Slaughterhouse is devoted to “Fuzz War,” which is pretty well summarized by the title. It’s a howling mess of guitar distortion and drums. But remember that midnight ride I mentioned? Sometimes this is the sound in your head.

Reverberating: 8.3

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