Freedom Goblin by Ty Segall
When Ty Segall broke onto the scene a decade ago with his first self-titled LP, he was immediately thrown into the punk and lo-fi camps. Since then, he has continually morphed his sound to include folk, psychedelic rock, jazz, metal, and glam. Segall’s ambitious new release, Freedom’s Goblin, defies any labels he has previously donned by crafting an expansive double album that encompasses all of his previous facets and more. Along with this new set of extraordinary songs, Segall brings along his newest (and my personal favorite) backing band, the Freedom Band, as well as producer/musician/wizard Steve Albini.
After a lone snare hit from Freedom Band drummer Charles Moothart on opener “Fanny Dog,” a frenzy of instruments explode into the each other as Segall passionately sings about his beloved dog, Fanny. For the first time on any Segall record, a horn section is heavily featured, lending a strong glam rock feel to the song. Next is the ballad “Rain,” which begins as a Beatles-y piano rumination backed by keyboardist Ben Boye that emphasizes Segall’s aching vocals before melting into a full band chorus that sounds akin to a psychedelic jazz funeral. The lead guitars of Segall and Emmett Kelly mesh with the horns, creating a sonic wall of sound that takes over the song until Segall steers it back with a somber final verse.
Although Ty Segall is not necessarily known for disco, the next two songs, “Every 1’s a Winner” and “Despoiler of Cadaver,” do much more than simply ape the sound of classic disco records. Hot Chocolate’s 1979 hit “Every 1’s a Winner” is repurposed as a love song to his newlywed partner, Denée, and features a fuzzy take on the main riff. For what it’s worth, “Winner” also features percussion from Portlandia star Fred Armisen, another first for Segall. While it is my least favorite track on the album, “Despoiler of Cadaver” is a truly odd drum-machine disco track that stretches his boundaries even further and highlights the basslines of longtime collaborator and current Freedom Band member Mikal Cronin. “When Mommy Kills You” is a frantic punk rocker that resembles Segall’s past output more than any of the preceding tracks. The crashing drums give way to a fuzzy guitar riff while Segall sings a bizarre storyline that is, I hope, not about his own mother.
And then there is “My Lady’s On Fire,” the gorgeous summertime jam laced with saxophone licks, noodly guitars, and stacked harmonies. This song, much like Segall’s other melodic acoustic-based music, is heavily influenced by early T. Rex and Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust–era David Bowie. The next track, “Alta,” begins much like the aforementioned “Rain,” with its hushed keys and exposed vocals. In pure Segall fashion, the song soon erupts into an anthemic grunge tribute to nature. The positivity of these two tracks is then plowed over by the brutal “Meaning”—a close-up look at a couple’s argument—sung by Denée Segall. I hope their lovely union leads to more marital punk excursions, because there is currently a Kim Gordon/Thurston Moore–sized hole in my heart.
The previous highlights transition to three tracks that are pleasant enough but don’t quite match up to the glory of the rest of the album. Anyone who might be appalled by the menace of “Meaning” will be soothed by another piece of acoustic pop, “Cry Cry Cry.” George Harrison–influenced slide guitars whistle away in the background while background singers echo Segall’s depiction of a broken relationship. While the garage rock of “Shoot You Up” has its moments, its melody resembles, possibly a little too closely, his previous record’s opening track, “Break a Guitar.” This results in an ultimately boring experience for the fan. The loping acoustic ode to Segall’s new marriage, “You Say All The Nice Things,” plays like early-’70s Neil Young with an affinity for psychedelic flourishes.
“The Last Waltz” kicks the party back up with a drunken breakup singalong. Its shambolic atmosphere nicely contrasts the constructed (yet never stale) first half of the album. Next is the pulsating “She,” which could easily fit on any of the first six Black Sabbath albums. Its guitar solos are joyfully unhinged, exploring a side of metal that avoids the guitar-hero antics of many modern groups. Two jazz-influenced punk songs follow: “Prison” and “Talkin 3.” These songs showcase the Freedom Band’s penchant for tightness in moments of chaos and once again contrast the poppier first half.
The last fourth of the record is incredibly strong. Case in point: “The Main Pretender,” possibly my favorite track on the album. It shows the funky side of Segall seen earlier in “Winner” and “Mommy,” but also incorporates a garage chorus that pushes the envelope of his preceding albums. The loner anthem “I’m Free” is a ’60s-influenced tune in which Segall proudly champions his own thought-provoking introversion. Simple, and sporting a splendid melody, “I’m Free” is one of the most lyrically direct songs on the album. It is followed by the energetic power-pop of “5 Ft. Tall,” a catchy song that ranks among Segall’s best rockers, which slowly builds momentum until its final chorus, then devolves into a mess of feedback. After all the catchy pop and rock hooks found across the album, Ty Segall lets his guitar shine on the Crazy Horse–inspired finale “And, Goodnight”: it may be a recreation of his song “Sleeper,” but it spreads its wings much further than its original acoustic interpretation.
In my opinion, this is easily Ty Segall’s best record to date. Steve Albini does an excellent job of accentuating the Freedom Band’s intricacies while retaining much of the roughness and immediacy of Segall’s earlier work. Many double albums come across as self-indulgent—yes, I’m looking at you, The Wall—but Freedom’s Goblin truly takes advantage of its extended runtime, offering only a few duds. Ty Segall is known for being prolific; I can’t wait to see how he expands his horizons. Until then, plan on catching his show at Saturn on April 20th.
- Max Simon '19