Full of raggedly proficient, scathingly fast songs, Ty Segall’s six-year, seven-album tear was marked by willful disrespect, both for modern concepts of calculated release rollouts and any notion of music as something to be savored or scrutinized. Recorded in guerilla-style bursts, these albums were as reckless in the handling and representation of their influences as Segall was in the act of recording them, mulching a wide variety of genres and modes with apparent disregard for how they’d blend together: effervescent beach pop crossed with sludgy heavy metal, moody psych with caustic grunge, all at bracing punk-rock speeds.
This approach peaked with the explosive, baroque Slaughterhouse, at which point Segall began to evolve, at first gradually via the broad-spectrum insanity of Twins, then suddenly with the mournful acoustic nightmare folk of Sleeper. All these experiments seem to have been building toward Manipulator, a major effort which distills that scattershot unpredictability within a new, more complex approach to recording, one that utilizes his technical dexterity while still paying service to his traditionally unruly approach.
This means that while Manipulator still abounds with thrash interludes, frenzied guitar solos, and snarling vocals, these elements are now secondary to a unified atmosphere. The songs are often wildly different, but they cohere thanks to a stronger-than-ever sense of precision, which makes them more memorable and intricate. “Tall Man Skinny Lady” seems relatively genial at first—a bouncy shuffle backed by reverb-heavy vocals—until those vocals grow haunting and an eight-bar solo gradually slips its bounds, sloshing all over the rest of the track. “The Singer” slows things down to waltz time, maintaining that pace while gradually growing with into a sinister piece of chamber pop, complete with strings. “The Feels” plods around morosely before exploding into another searing solo, perhaps the most chillingly dramatic moment in an album stacked with them. It’s these sorts of shifts that differentiate Manipulator from Segall’s previous work, creating an abundant sense of inspired madness via a lush, lacerating production style, dotted with odd vocal effects and densely layered distortion.
Segall has made several references to glam rock in recent interviews, and while those influences show slightly in the newfound focus on crafting flamboyant, gussied up music, the album is still far more inclined toward gloomy ambiance than glittery strut; not even an act like the New York Dolls approached the level of menacing fierceness exhibited here. The closest analogue might actually be a band near the other end of that spectrum, as Manipulator often recalls the work of T. Rex, filtered through jaded punk nihilism instead of wide-eyed hippie wonder. Prior to this album, Segall was most notable for his music’s exciting collision of manic energy and technical skill. Here he retains those basics while demonstrating a keener focus on song construction and mechanics, the work of an artist who’s still intent on tearing things up, but possesses a newly lucid understanding of how to shape interesting music out of the remnants.