Ty Segall
Drag City

Too much, too soon? It’s a valid question to pose towards Mr. Ty Segall. While Segall’s output has been on par with a genuine savant like a Kurt Vile, there’s been little breathing room to truly assess the impact of each album. Though Twins is the official and worthy successor to last year’s stunning Goodbye Bread, there were a lot of revealing moments in between that muddy the perception. There was certainly a transformation on Bread, where Segall moved onto a studied and nuanced platform as a songwriter. With the Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse, he continued to get his jollies off in something that veered very close to aping Zepp and Sabbath.

Should one take the title literally, though, this is the perfect balance. Here, Segall works from both sides of the spectrum. “You’re the Doctor” shreds as gnarly as anything he’s done in the past. Segall has a penchant to pull from both extremes—from the Groundhogs to GG Allin—and the song shows an equilibrium rare among the purveyors of this fuzzy medium. Then again, he also sounds completely rooted in the psychedelic pop of The Beatles—maudlin, exquisitely arranged, and moving the genre into the future with songs like “The Hills” and the mostly acoustic “Gold on the Shore.” (Yes, stringing together a bunch of references points is the best way to describe Twins.) Still, the brightest moments here sound more informed by grunge than the classics, almost to the point of fault. The best tune here, “Would You Be My Love,” is a carbon copy of Nirvana’s “Drain You,” so much so, you’ll be singing in Kurt Cobain’s rasp over the chords. The funny thing is it’s exhilarating, as if this brand of guitar rock has been sitting dormant for too long. Such is the split-persona we’ve seen thus far from Ty Segall. Magnificent in spurts, Twins is the most essential album he’s put together, but he’s not quite there yet.
Kevin J. Elliott

Tame Impala

I was digging through my crates during one of my periodical paring-downs when I came across Salako’s Re-inventing Punctuation. I gave it a spin and the post-Sebadoh bedroom bands of the late ’90s all came flooding back into my mind. Ten-plus years later the album doesn’t sound as cool as it did at first, but some of those sample-heavy, loop-based, half-electronic/half-human songs had the verve of a new vanguard of pop music for a while. It’s those sunny tones that Salako, The Beta Band, MGMT, Animal Collective, and now, Tame Impala have in common that is so compellingly listenable. Maybe it’s the reverb, maybe it’s the falsetto vocal harmonies, or maybe the buzzy guitar and the rolling boulder of drums, but if there’s a most important common thread, it’s the bedroom style one-man composition on Lonerism that puts this in league with those established artists.

The record kicks off with “Be Above It,” a vocal sample repeating the mantra “gotta be above it” as the main rhythm until the ear-boxing drums bust in, mirroring the loop. For a few seconds, this could turn out to be a Broken-era Nine Inch Nails rip-off, until the vibrato-laden synth lays gently atop the concussive rhythm and the hazy lead vocals materialize. Lonerism continues on that soft but tough like suede path, jumping from calculated Beatles psychedelia to dirty, crunching Tommy James trip-rock. Some songs skip from snippets to fully realized epic jams, and as a whole, Lonerism works best as a full album. Songs like “Mind Mischief” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” will end up on those DJ night tables and draw curious listeners up begging for artist and title info, if only so they can grab it at the record store the next day and relive that moment forever in their own bedroom.
Michael P. O’Shaughnessy

Moon Duo
Sacred Bones

As Ripley Johnson has traversed between many psychedelic realms with his main outfit, Wooden Shjips, one wouldn’t think there would be much ground left for him to cover with Moon Duo, the equally acid-drenched duo he comprises with Sanae Yamada. However, now on its third full-length, Circles, the band has proven that it too is forging a sonic space as every bit distinct as it is similar to Johnson’s other outlet.

Conceived in the Rocky Mountains and recorded in San Francisco, Circles shares the penchant for repetition and noise exhibited on past albums. Songs like the title track and “Rolling Out” are immediately reminiscent of Spacemen 3’s Recurring in both Johnson’s guitar tone and vocal intonation. There’s nothing wrong with that, as lesser bands have aped the Warwickshire band, and in fact, with Moon Duo generally playing at a faster tempo than those luminaries, there’s never a sense of redundancy. Indeed, Moon Duo has an unmistakable pop lilt, so one can become as much entranced by the hooks as the lysergic effects. It is this lighter side that is perhaps the greatest difference between Moon Duo and Wooden Shjips, though ultimately both are equally illuminating.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Sleepwalker”

AC Newman
Shut Down the Streets

The government and his friends know him as Carl, but music fans know him better as AC Newman, former member of Superconductor and Zumpano and current de facto leader of the New Pornographers. Newman has also carved out a space as a solo artist, with his first record appearing in 2004 and his second in 2009. His third and latest album, Shut Down the Streets, finds his songwriting touched by the recent death of his mother and the birth of his son, and thus seems to have a greater gravitas than Newman’s other work.

The most striking difference here is that Newman takes a plainspoken approach lyrically. There’s no mucking about with convoluted turns of phrase or seemingly disconnected thoughts. It’s as if he wants to make sure that everything he has to say is heard. Yet, Shut Down the Streets isn’t maudlin or morose. It’s as funny, poppy and playful as the New Pornographers’ best work, but with an added layer of emotion. And even without the backstory, the listener can tell the difference. When Newman does directly address his mother’s death on the title track, it’s simple, heartfelt and honest.

Musically Newman is as deft and tasteful as ever. There are understated drums and snatches of banjo that sit along side bubbling keyboards and healthy slabs of acoustic guitar. It’s generally a mid-tempo record, but Newman does punch up the proceedings when it seems like in may slide into Starbucks-radio territory. One of the most pleasant surprises on Shut Down the Streets is that New Pornographer cohort Neko Case joins him on vocals on a number of songs. But that’s not the selling point. Instead, it’s the growing of Newman as a songwriter and how, even in turmoil, he can find the sunlight that shines through.
Dorian S. Ham

Beth Orton
Sugaring Season

Emerging in the mid-90s, Beth Orton was a breath of fresh perspective. Instead of picking between organic and electronic, she fused the two into a perfect mesh of sounds that revealed the two camps to be not as diametrically opposed as we might have thought. Albums like Trailer Park and Central Reservation showed Orton to be a unique voice, both literally and figuratively.

Of course, after reaching such peaks, it is difficult not to become redundant or fall prey to cliche. Orton retreated to the safe waters of singer-songwriter territory, and her output became, well, watered-down. With albums like 2002’s Daybreaker and even the Jim O’Rourke–produced Comfort of Strangers from 2006, she treaded dangerously close to becoming NPR-safe fare as she shed her creative edge.

With Sugaring Season, Orton probably won’t offend any of the Sunday brunch crowd she has won over with previous albums, but the record does reveal her songwriting to have become more keen. Songs like the leadoff “Magpie” show her palette has expanded to take on deeper and darker hues, with traditional folk tinges melding with a contemporary rhythmus. The same could be said of “Candles,” but the standout is “See Through Blue.” Here Orton grows more playful, cavorting vocally over a string-led waltz. Indeed, the presence of strings also helps elevate songs like “Last Leaves of Autumn” and, ultimately, the album as a whole, into something more resplendent and exciting.
Stephen Slaybaugh