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Album Review: Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger

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Emotional Mugger is creative and unorthodox in a way that’s wholly unpredictable and not particularly welcoming. On “The Magazine,” rapid rhythmic clapping comes out of nowhere to overwhelm the melody, which simultaneously collapses into nothing more than record scratching and atonal vocals. The track “W.U.O.T.W.S.” goes from weird distorted murmurs to an acoustic guitar outro reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Honey Pie.” In fact, the album’s primary theme is dissonance; Segall intends to create a moody, at times horrific atmosphere—and he often succeeds. The album cover—baby in a menacing white mask against an ominous, grainy backdrop—is straight out of an ’80s horror film.

The guitar breakdowns are the best part of this album. Although Segall’s guitarist employs the fairly common minor pentatonic blues scale, he manages to make it new. He uses effects like gain and fuzz to great effect, and his bitingly aggressive breakdowns contrast well with Segall’s droning verses. The best example of this is “California Hills,” in which the guitar breakdowns are in double time, and are reminiscent of The Strokes on Room on Fire. By contrast, the lyrics are nothing special. There are rare gems, which are provocative and insightful, such as the following lines from “California Hills:” “American nightmare, guilty generation / Fingers on the pulse of their parents’ alienation / From the history, histories of western civilization.”

Segall’s vocals can be characterized as weird for the sake of being weird. He usually sings in a high, fuzzed out drone. Along with production, the vocals are the main way in which Segall creates an air of horror. For example, the track “Squealer Two” concludes with some sort of demented clown laughing out the lines “squealer man.” And while creepy vocals are not necessarily a bad thing, they lack any aesthetic or redeeming quality on this album. This is especially true on “Baby Big Man,” where, much like the entire track, the vocals are essentially pointless.

On the whole, this album is not particularly enjoyable. There are a few good songs, the standout track being the aforementioned “California Hills,” but most songs are either forgettable or too jarring to listen to more than once. This album is not likely to have a wide influence, nor is it aesthetically significant, but it is certainly an interesting listening experience.

Standout tracks:

“Californian Hills,” “Mandy Cream,” “Diversion”

Sounds like:

The mood occasionally evokes the droning of Sonic Youth and the guitar riffs sound like the early White Stripes. Note that these comparisons make the album seem far better than it is.

Standout lyric:

“American nightmare, guilty generation / fingers on the pulse of their parents’ alienation / from the history, histories of western civilization.”

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