Ty Segall exchanges his patented fuzzed-out garage-psych for heartfelt acoustic folk balladry, and somehow makes it sound completely natural.
Drag City, 2013
7.9 / 10
When I’d first heard, in the months leading up to the release of Sleeper, that the album was rumored to be a laid-back acoustic album, my initial reaction was, “Yeah, good one Ty.” The ridiculously prolific garage-rocker’s previous two full-lengths (two of three released in 2012 alone), Slaughterhouse and Twins, were both in-your-face psych-punk mind-blowers — with the former bordering on straight-up ’70s-style metal at times — yet the beautiful psych-tinged folk contained herein seems to be at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. But considering the album was recorded after a falling-out with his mother and the passing of his adoptive father, the pure, unadulterated honesty and pensive emotion of Sleeper may have provided Segall some much-needed catharsis in a way that “psych-punk mind-blowers” couldn’t.
While he had occasionally flirted with a similar vibe earlier in his career, most notably on 2011′s Goodbye Bread, the wistful, string-laden opening title track here lets the listener know right away that this is going to be an entirely different Ty Segall, one who’s more willing to look to Love, Barrett, and even Bowie for inspiration than he is The Stooges, Jay Reatard, and 60s garage, all while somehow still sounding entirely like himself. But, in spite of the fact that he’s traded in his amps-to-eleven garage-psych for graceful acoustic balladry, there have always been hints of folk and early British psych-music in even his heaviest material, so maybe all this isn’t as massive of a leap for him as it initially may seem. The slow-dirge “The Keepers” continues in the same melancholy vein as the titular track, recalling a more eerie and ominous “Nights in White Satin,” without sounding dated in the least. In fact, it sounds totally fresh, and even moving, both lyrically and musically. The ’60s and ’70s-infused psych-folk on these tracks and others prove that Ty isn’t, and never has been, a one-trick-pony.
The album isn’t all just reflective and mournful folk ballads, however, as the second half is as varied as they come, while still maintaining a sense of unity. “The Man’s Man” is a hook-filled rocker…well, at least as rocking as one can get while jamming on an acoustic guitar. Segall even busts out one of his patented fuzzed-out solos near the end, 30 seconds of jagged guitar histrionics that proves a solo doesn’t have to be epic in length to get the job done. This song, along with the old-school delta blues of “6th Street” and the country-western twang of “The West”– a song in which the inspired lyrics dealing with Segall’s late father and estranged mother transform what would have been a catchy country ditty into a song that’s rather touching and heartfelt — shows that Ty can shift from genre to genre and make them all entirely his own, without ever seeming disingenuous or like mere homages.
Although Ty Segall likes to change things up with each and every album, and with consistently great results, I can’t help but want to see him explore this direction a little further, as it shows a totally different, deeper and more thoughtful side to a songwriter and musician who seemingly has the talent to write top-tier, fuzz-filled garage-psych in his sleep. Sleeper may not be a perfect album but, knowing Segall, his second attempt at a more singer-songwriter-based album may just prove to be a modern psych-folk classic.