by Andrew Karpan ( @donniedelillo)
Sometime in the middle of listening to the latest Ty Segall record, I thought of a line, not of his but belonging to Marc Bolan, warning the young rock n’ roll listener that “one day we change, one day we change, one day we change from children into people.” I suspect Segall might have heard this line, though it’s not among the T. Rex material he’s been occasional recording, most recently packaged by Goner Record in 2015’s Ty Rex. A sense of everlasting childhood may be an essential way of thinking about Segall’s work and even if it isn’t, in the trailer for Segall’s latest release, he busies himself rolling down a hill, as if to say that his life is one without cares. This latest record, fittingly-titled Joy, is a sort of precocious record, maybe the most intimate in his career, inviting the listener to hear him work things out.
It is also the second record Segall has recorded with Tim Presley, an LA singer and guitarist who records as White Fence. Segall and Presley are good friends but a disparate pair: Presley’s voice is quiet, reflective in a Syd Barret-kinda way while it’s impossible to imagine Segall singing or even having an inside voice. Their first collaboration was a 2012 record called Hair, which had eight tracks and enough space for their voices to mash, crash, and carry itself to the finish line like quarterbacks arising out of the mud. Joy is about as long but the tracks number fifteen. There are instrumental interludes, a field recording of who I suppose is Segall’s dog, who barks and appears on the cover next to Presley’s presumably quieter cat.
As a band dealing with less space, Segall and Presley prove to be a tight ensemble, energetic in quantifiable bursts of energy that last a minute. The guitars play off each other, calculated on a lets-try-this basis. I hear riffs that feel like the end of a Minor Threat cover and then feel suddenly scrapped from a lost Caravan album. Which isn’t to say that the ideas aren’t capable of cohering arrestingly: on “Body Behavior,” they quote ELO and sound like Can at the same time. The attitude is coy and playful, a rebellion against seriousness. At a certain point and amid guitars squealing so hard they feel like a child being pinched by their grandmother, Segall begins chanting: “rock is dead, rock is dead, rock is dead.” This song is followed by an instrumental flute solo.
The full-length collaborative project permits neither to get trapped into a style, mode or a concept; music that feels creatively challenging to make but not to listen. In lieu of the kind of guiding ideas that forwarded most of their recent releases, Joy is a collection of odes to companionship; long afternoons of movie dates and hanging out in the language of Nuggets-size short stories. “A Nod” is precisely the kind of song you can imagine a Haight hippie writing about Facebook complete to the chorus: “Banks say I need money, my friends say I need followers, but I want to believe in me.” The me is collective, it means looking up from your phone and smelling the roses, petting your dog and sleeping “inside your leather jacket.”
Back in 2012, Hair had also worked as a kind of corrective to listeners who had just become aware of the latest Drag City signee, whose first two records for the label were chock full of fuzzy, college radio gold like “You Make The Sun Fry” and “Would You Be My Love.” Joy fulfills a similar purpose to anyone who thought the marital bliss of Freedom’s Goblin represented Segall as a kind of mature artist at the Jarvis Cocker stage of his career, ready to lean back and program radio playlists for the Sirius Radio Corporation. More than anything, it reminded me of Friends, that lo-fi Beach Boys record full of short songs about “Doin’ Nothin."
Speaking of which, Joy ends on a moment of pure bliss, a heavenly yarn that feels weaved by Neil Young called plainly “My Friend.” How nice to give us this, holding off on the experiments for almost four minutes to sound fragile and whisper in our ear and lull us back into a joyfully misremembered youth. Why change into anything else?