by Andrew Karpan (@donniedelillo)
Nostalgia is a grotesque animal. To hear recognizable sounds is pleasing and yet we want more than that. Songs too sweet, too familiar are knockoffs, nothing of value to add, the singer sounds like some other singer. Cover records break this covenant and, for that reason, are often considered secondary and curious. Where was the deluxe edition for David Bowie’s Pin Ups? Fudge Sandwich, the latest record by Californian guitarist Ty Segall, is different and demands considerations on its own merits. Its “low-key” release, on In The Red, not usually Segall’s label, is no reason not to wholeheartedly join him on his journey into his figurative and literal record collection, of which he has claimed was a great inspiration.
There is much to be gained here, eaten maybe, in Fudge Sandwich. In it, we find a self-portrait of its singer, a breathing version of himself constructed by things that he has not invented—as those things require an initial apprehension of value, is this song worth thinking about— but by sounds in the public domain. The cocaine bump thrill of “Easy Rider,” an approximation of John Lennon’s voice on his “Isolation” that would give Liam Gallagher nightmares. Segall’s spin on the material is not so much a manner of rearranging this or that arrangement, it is both their choice and the bar of intensity that he brings onto the material and that says everything about Segall, the kind of musician that he is and what brings us about a new one of these records every few months.
On no other Segall record, however, is he so nakedly vulnerable as he does on his version of “Pretty Miss Titty,” a deep cut sourced from the 1970 debut of the largely forgotten progressive rock band Gong but one that he sings deeply, like Elvis. Segall’s own work can get lost is the record store of his own creation—Fudge Sandwich marks the third album Segall has released this year, a number that does not include two other records that Segall has been involved in making—so it makes sense that he is interested in deep cuts. The song feels like one I imagine that Segall would enjoy putting on for his friends. This is what Segall does on Fudge Sandwich, to the best of his ability, and it is nice, in these thirty minutes, to feel included among friends.
Other songs suggest Segall is talking to his own past, laying around and listening to these records and then telling us afterward what was so great about these songs. The jukebox turns to “Class War,” a song by a group of Segall’s own ancient predecessors, hardcore mavericks the Dils. Segall conjures the chaos of the song’s burning skate parks but does it on an acoustic guitar and lets his voice croon instead of bark. This is the opposite of what Segall does to “Isolation,” where he has the distant, running hum of his guitar replace the song’s original solemn piano. These songs are being made and arranged in his own terms and they recall the anti-folk style of his 2013 and similarly autobiographical record, Sleeper. (“I’m directly calling out my mother and saying “Crazy” is about her,” he had said to the New York Times then.)
Segall’s version of these songs also take their own journey, from a sunny, strutting A-side to a garbled and punk B, which creates the effect of a growing noise swallowing us up. Inside his version of the anarcho-punk song “Rotten to the Core,” I feel like I am inside a punk club that is crumbling down and all the is left are the still-glowing neons hanging on the walls. His own voice comes in shouts, yelling at us to leave the room (“Why is it that rock stars, always seem to lie so much?”) This is fine point to end things because we can walk from there to the present without having to observe very much in between, the whole record is a kind of pompous musical reciting the story of that decade, Hamilton-like, play-acting the history books.
Fudge Sandwich is wild in its variation, telling a definitively more complete story about Segall than Ty Rex, his last covers record, which compiled prior recordings of T-Rex songs. Segall is astutely, maybe absurdly, talented but hides behind masks, long-hair and the large swaths of his own music that is an unwieldy and unedited corpus. On 2016’s Emotional Mugger, Segall was at it in a literal mask, yelling inside a large Eraserhead-tube on the album’s cover and during performances of the record’s songs on tour. This style of recording, for Segall, is smart but narrow, committed to keeping a bit together. On Fudge Sandwich, Segall instead makes a complex and definitive statement on his career and where he sees himself. Vital for future students, in search for nostalgia.