Ty Segall has made a dizzying number of records for a 35-year old—and the man is still introducing himself. For those unfamiliar with the Laguna Beach rock chameleon, “Hello, Hi,” his 14th solo studio album, is a great entry point. It covers all the highlights of Segall’s sound—acoustic balladry, ’60s psychedelia, fun and doomy full-band fare—in a crisp half hour. It may well be his best album since the golden era of 2011-2012, which gave us Twins, Slaughterhouse, and this album’s closest cousin in his catalog, Goodbye Bread.
As with that record, anxiety is the current running through these songs. But “Hello, Hi” pulls off a neat trick: it’s breezy morning music that builds tension and doesn’t release it. This is what makes it such an interesting turn. For all its mellowness, Goodbye Bread doesn’t sacrifice electric guitar freakouts, lurching tempo shifts, or sudden structural collapses. “Hello, Hi,” on the other hand, stays as polite as its title suggests from front to back.
The first few songs find Segall in top form as a balladeer. The gentle archway of acoustic strumming and tastefully dissonant vocal harmonies on “Good Morning” clears the way for the surreal “Cement” and anxious self-reflection on “Over.” Like the best tracks on Goodbye Bread, these are somehow clear-eyed and direct, but winding and hurried. The title track roars in next yet, ironically, feels the most out of place, a sludgy rocker that would sound more at home on a Fuzz album. “Blue” brings the energy back down.
But even when he’s restrained, there’s a whiff of anything-goes theatricality in Ty Segall’s music. He’s at his best when he’s loose—as in “Looking at You”, the high point of “Hello, Hi.” With its lilting Led Zeppelin optimism, the first half sounds like the start of a quest. Almost imperceptibly the song opens up and slows down until we’re back in ballad territory, with thick vocal harmonies and staccato keyboard accents. But instead of returning to the verse at the end, or closing out with a snarling solo, he leaves space for a lonely two-note riff and a trancelike groove—a pristine moment in by far the most creative song here.
“Don’t Lie” amps up the earnestness and puts Ty Segall’s gift for melody, the common thread through all his records, front and center. The song is an open-arms ode to love and honesty, a foil for the twists and turns of “Looking at You.” The two halves of “Saturday” resurface the sense of waiting anxiously for something that never arrives. A two-part acoustic-electric sequence titled “Saturday” begs for an electric explosion in part two, but Segall doesn’t solo. He evokes uncertainty and lets it be.
As anxious as Ty Segall’s music can be, it’s rarely despairing. More than any other song here, closer “Distraction” embodies that balance: a mid-tempo acoustic workout, Neil Young-style, lyrics opaque, sinister and whimsical (“At night I listen to the light outside the window, a sound reflection purple gray”). Segall signs off by spelling out “G-O-O-D N-I-G-H-T” and suggesting we take a walk outside. No answers here—only a mood we can’t quite place. At least we won’t have to wait long to hear the one he’ll conjure up next.
Label: Drag City
Casey is thinking about modern hip-hop and 70s rock. He’s written for Grandma Sophia’s Cookies, Brainchild, Plaze Music and WTJU.