A new album from Ty Segall during any 12-month period once seemed like a certainty. The psych/garage singer/songwriter has probably forgotten about more songs he’s written than most of us could ever hope to commit to tape, and with a standard of quality that’s hovered reliably between kickass and raucously fun. He released 10 of his 15 studio albums in a seven-year stretch, making the most of a good idea before it goes stale, his most white-hot streak arriving in 2012 as the noise punk squall of Slaughterhouse, the lo-fi scratch of Hair and the garagey swagger of Twins all arrived within months of each other. By the time he’d let us hear what kind of new permutation of his fuzz-swathed psychedelic rock he’s been working on, the next two or three were likely already underway.
After the glam-rock climax of 2018’s excellent Freedom’s Goblin, Segall began to slow things down. Not the median tempo of his songs, which maintain an irrepressible strut, but the level of his output, which has been given the gift of space and more careful consideration. Giving himself a little more space to breathe seemed an inevitability, particularly following 2019’s First Taste, which found Segall offering up a record with less guitar—and more mandolin, koto, etc.—than usual, or the synth-driven mania of Harmonizer, arriving a full two years later. As his mad rush to create has given way to a more measured approach, a surprising new experimentalism has become an essential part of Segall’s recorded output.
Three Bells, Segall’s first new album since 2022’s “Hello, Hi”, breaks no new records. It’s neither his longest nor his strangest, nor the loudest nor the one following the longest interval. It is the most refined of Segall’s albums, however, a 65-minute exercise in layered psych-rock arrangements and lyrical introspection that feels immersive in a way that his most blown-out power chord freakouts, fun as they remain, never were. It’s perhaps glib to say it’s his most mature release, but as a seasoned master of kitchen-sink headphone experiences, Segall goes deeper where once he might have chosen to go wider.
Three Bells is stacked with some of Segall’s best songs to date, including the heady sprawl of the album’s first single, “Void.” Driven by a juxtaposition of thick bass against an arpeggiated cascade of acoustic guitar, “Void” burns both slow and hot, the delayed release of its climaxes making their impact feel more potent. The laid-back strut of opener “The Bell” harbors a gentle paisley swirl, once again defined more by acoustic guitars than a pronounced layer of fuzz, but that’s still here in plentiful amounts as well—in the oddball escalation of “Move,” the sharp-edged riffs of “Eggman,” and the epic thunder of “Watcher.” Still, the greatest moments on Three Bells are often those that get more comfortable casting off the bombast, as with the sinister haze of “Reflections” or the airy prog-rock daydream of “Wait.”
As Segall’s songwriting mostly evades straightforward three-chord rock ‘n’ roll on Three Bells, he’s more focused lyrically on internal concerns. Much of the album is a reflection of particular anxieties and their remedies (he’s saying what we’re all thinking), be it his prescription to “Stop conversation, and experience joy, and walk outside” on “Void,” or how he contradicts that very idea on “My Room,” lamenting, “Out there it’s too busy/It’s easier inside my room.” But he also celebrates simple pleasures and pays tribute to those close to him, naming standout prog-funk groove “Denee” after his partner, and singing an ode to his four-legged companion on “My Best Friend.”
While a handful of Ty Segall’s albums predict the sprawl of Three Bells, few have encapsulated as grand a journey. With its somewhat more muted tonal palette, it’s an album that likewise speaks to how far the California singer/songwriter has come, songs befitting larger stages and bigger spaces. The level of fun is by no means more muted—moments like the boinging synth sounds in “To You” make certain of that. Segall’s just grown more comfortable taking a few more detours in getting to the dopamine-rush payoff.
Label: Drag City
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.