Undeniably, one of the best surprises of 2011 has been the Mark Ronson-produced garage/cowpunk Black Lips album, Arabian Mountain. Critics and fans alike seemed to revel in the lack of convention and wackiness of the whole thing. And it’s that lasting feeling of throwback and misdirection that we keep going back to as we hear Ty Segall’s garage manifesto. When you absorb a musician like Segall, it’s hard to even pinpoint where he is at in his career. His music credentials seem to read like a book of hieroglyphics. The guy’s got like four bands, solo albums, EPs, 45s, split-45s, and so forth and so forth.
Yet, like a little diamond in the rough, this album pops up. From the moment it opens with some little lo-fi guitar strumming and poor treble warble, you feel as if you are right there in the garage. Over the next thirty minutes, everything seems to be just out of focus and you can never really quite tell what he is saying, but he manages to pull off this burned out anthem of cynicism and lethargy. It seems like the scale can’t be small enough (“California Commercial” comes and goes in just eighty seconds!), but he carries catchy tunes with all of them.
“You Make the Sun Fry” is easily the best track on the album. He rocks out the in the subtlest of ways with a head bobbing chant that kept reminding me of the latter portions of “I Am the Walrus.” If you evoke Lennon in any way shape or form, you have my attention. Congratulations.
And the album is full of little prizes like that. It seems like every song is something you want to tap your feet to. The guitar always packs the right amount of attitude without ever sounding cheap or painful. Even the lyrics have a bit of phased drawl to them; “She says she wants to buy a couch/ I said why do we have to buy the couch?” The line essentially says nothing but he takes so long to say nothing that it feels like he’s got it all figured out here.
If I had to point to a criticism, I would say that his skills as both a musician and a singer are pretty limited. The fact that he revels in the failures of this to be art isn’t enough to completely erase them. You’re not going to get any displays of guitar, vocals or really anything musical for that matter. Trust me when I say that it’s really not that important.
Other songs worth the listen are the slow-builder title track, the distorted wailer “Where Your Mind Goes,” and vocalizer “Fine,” which seems to come out of the blue amidst much heavier material. If you’re getting a little sick of the Black Lips or just want something a little shorter and slower, here you have it.