Receiving new music from the ever-prolific psyche rocker Ty Segall is as inevitable as a bag of spinach getting soggy in your refrigerator. It’s bound to happen sooner than you expected. With no warning, Segall’s first album in two years, Harmonizer was unleashed as a surprise on Tuesday, August 3rd via Drag City. But while it was an unexpected midsummer bonus, the excitement around this new collection comes with how much of an artistic leap forward it is for the restless rock innovator.
Within the first glitchy, synthetic moments of the instrumental opener “Learning,” it’s clear that Ty was able to get the back-to-basics rock kicks out with his last official solo release Freedom’s Goblin and is ready to introduce a little chaos back into the fold.
Once this appetizer is digested, you get a sense of the overall sound you will be getting on the record as soon as things heat up on the next track, “Whisper.” This time around, the overall feel is less like the Alice Cooper-meets-Beatles rock majesty he displayed on Goblin, and more like a badass cross-pollination between John Carpenter’s classic electronic horror scores and the sleavy horned-up boogie blues of latter day Queens of the Stone Age.
The record sounds as thick as roadside fudge, with live and electronic drums recorded with a dry thwap, slithery synths and dimed-out guitar leads fighting over air in the arrangements. Segall’s idiosyncratic vocals pushed way up in the mix as he tightly harmonizes with himself, delivering sinister earworms throughout the record’s concise 35 minute runtime.
Created largely in collaboration with Cooper Crain at Segall’s newly finished Harmonizer Studios, the album is wet with attention to detail like sweat dripping off the brow of someone pulling out a final jenga piece unscathed. According to a press release, members of his roadworn and dynamic Freedom Band appear individually all over the record in certain spots. But their presence is never fully felt with all of their force, as this feels like the true work of someone pacing around a studio piecing it all together on their own time.
As critics, it’s a difficult thing to pinpoint whether a record is either a turning point for an underground artist going commercial or if that artist has simply made an album full of undeniable lean and mean bangers. There is no doubt that Harmonizer is the most accessible album Segall has ever released. He’s far away from being the “Emotional Mugger” here, as songs like “Pictures,” the title track, and “Play” are all primed for cleanup hitter walkout music glory. This is Ty as the technician, ready to dismantle and dominate radio rock.
With all of this talk about lasered-in pop hooks, Segall adds an oddball curveball late in the record as he is joined by his wife and The C.I.A vocalist on the deliciously off-center “Feel Good.” Starting with a hardcore riff that would fit in on the Keith Morris years of Black Flag, the song morphs into something that resembles if DEVO backed Marc Bolan. The album closes out with the pulsating rhythm of “Changing Contours” that includes fuzzed out harmonized leads that dance over programmed drums like if RATATAT ate a bad tab of acid.
“Now I’m breathing all I see / New shapes exist in me,” Segall sings as the song intensifies. Something tells me that we will never know how many different musical shapes we will see from Ty Segall. But with Harmonizer, he has released one of his boldest statements and best records to date. Like a prizefighter down in the count, goading his opponent to lay one on his chin, Segall is ready to risk it under the lights and give you your money’s worth.
Prerequisites: Ty Segall Freedom’s Goblin, Hawkwind Space Ritual
Essential Tracks: “Whispers,”“Pictures,” and “Play”