Ty Segall has done almost nothing wrong as a musician. Putting on any of his records or seeing him play live is to participate in a compulsory exercise of spinning around and playing an air guitar. Most likely, you won’t get through the first song before this starts happening. Most, if not everything this guy touches turns to gold (He’s even been seen wearing glitter lately), and his prolific streak seems to have no end. Getting my hands on Manipulator may have been one of the happiest days of my life. Segall’s fuzzy nuggets can be candy to the soul. Sure, all that sugar will catch up to you in the long run, but the instant gratification is all that matters right now.
Since escaping from Laguna Beach for San Francisco in 2007 as an artist on a mission — although he’s been living, writing, and recording other bands in Los Angeles over the past year — Segall has released an exhausting amount of music. Besides making at least a solo album per year, he has his hands in many projects; just looking at his resume is exhausting. In most cases, though, the hard work pays off. Manipulator sounds a lot like Segall’s best album to date, and there’s plenty of evidence to support that, but the running time does it no favors. At 57 minutes, it’s considerably longer than anything he’s released — most of Segall’s records hover around 30 minutes — and having 17 tracks does leave room for the listening mind to wander a little. The transitions aren’t all perfectly smooth either, like when the heavenly acoustic strums of “Don’t You Want To Know? (Sue)” become the heavy slog of “The Crawler” after an odd pause. Manipulator isn’t as immediate as something like 2010’s pulverizing Melted, but that album also didn’t take 14 months to complete. Segall toiled over Manipulator, and here his songs range from the sandy ruts of “Green Belly” to the funky rubbery bass of “Feel,” complete with a clever drum solo. With partner in crime Mikal Cronin featured on some bass and string arrangements, Segall’s guitar playing is given the backing to truly dazzle, and the drums splash and bang in all the right spaces. John Dwyer should be proud; his prodigal brother has risen all the way to the top.
Segall was already soloing like a bastard way before Manipulator, but now he’s certified himself as the noodling master of the art. His notes on “Tall Man Skinny Lady” are so high that you’d swear he’s draped entirely over his pick-ups; the refreshing yet scratchy sound pulls your senses into the speakers. Telling us to “ask your boss man for a raise” on “The Faker,” Segall’s guitar becomes a siphon for dirty laundry that undoubtedly comes out clean at the end. His fast finger picking of the acoustic on “The Clock” could rival any song on Buzz Osborne’s recent all-acoustic album. As an alien synth sound surges at the opening of “The Connection Man,” Segall’s blistering lick cuts through like an uninvited neighbor. The song explodes into guitar squall, but the synth still bleeps away. Lastly, it’s hard not to have fond memories of the Rolling Stones’ magic as “Stick Around” waves Manipulator goodbye.
When Segall sings, “it’s over, it’s over, old friend, it’s over” on “It’s Over,” I can’t help feeling remorse for all the other aspirational guitar heroes out there. It’s hard to compete with this guy. Segall is the certified torchbearer of the glamorous punk-psych-folk domain. Questioning Manipulator for its musicianship and value would just seem insulting — Segall’s many talents have never meshed so well — but the man used to be so much more direct. Segall doesn’t need a double album to burn the brightest. You can’t really blame him for trying, though — he’s already done almost everything else.