Although Ty Segall has explored garage rock, surf, punk, psych, glam, metal, folk and beyond, one thing that has always distinguished him from his peers is a penchant for being slightly off-kilter. This has manifested itself in many different ways throughout his career, but on Segall’s latest album, Freedom’s Goblin, it appears in the very first track. “Fanny” is a massive, hooky wonder, full of glam stomp and sprinkled with the glitter of a Rhodes synthesizer and a horn section. And it’s about Segall’s dog.
The rest of Freedom’s Goblin, which Segall remarks was written and recorded with “no rules or restrictions in what it would be,” continues to defy expectations. This is why the horn section of the ebullient “Fanny” is as perfect there as it is in the considerably more somber “Rain,” a song that aches with melancholy (“I’m waiting for the sky to die”) until it finishes on a hopeful, yet appropriate, note.
The glam damage that was prominent on 2016’s Emotional Mugger keeps burbling up on Freedom’s Goblin, like in “Despoiler of Cadaver,” where Segall alternates between a falsetto and a fierce grumble. It also plays a role in the cadences of “The Main Pretender,” where Mikal Cronin lets loose with a filthy saxophone. That sax is a big part of the trashy appeal of “Talkin 3,” which sounds like a missing track off The Stooges’ Fun House.
Then there’s the rabble-rousing punk assault of songs like “When Mommy Tries to Kill You” (check out that unpredictable piano) and “Meaning,” which opens with drums, cowbell and warped guitar blasts before switching gears completely towards a pummeling feminist anthem with searing vocals from Segall’s wife Denée (“you’re filled with meaning / you’re filled with shit”).
As fresh as Segall sounds, he also knows his music history better than most. “She” invigorates its one lyric (“she said I was a bad boy”) into an album’s worth of raw emotions, hearkening back to the glory days of Deep Purple’s guitar/synth solos. Fans who saw one of Segall’s recent acoustic shows already know about his cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner,” but here it utilizes a full band, including Charles Moothart’s ramshackle drumming, Fred Armisen on percussion (!), and Segall himself on bass and guitar. Fans of straightforward garage rock tendencies will enjoy “Shoot You Up,” a song that comes off like an updated, polished version of the skuzzy fuzz of “Ghost” from 2012’s Twins.
Segall and the Freedom Band rip through more genres and sub-genres on the album, always splicing their own unique DNA within. “5 Ft. Tall” crosses back and forth between tempos so rapidly, the result is breathtaking; as such, it might the most Ty Segall-like of all the songs on the album. Then there’s “The Last Waltz,” which yes, is a waltz, albeit one with lots of improvisational activity. Segall admits it’s the only song that wasn’t fully fleshed out before the album was recorded, “an experiment in itself where I’d written all the words and I wrote the chords, but I didn’t show the band a thing. All the mics were set up, and I said, ‘OK, it goes like this, ready? First take.’ And that’s the first take.”
“I’m Free” is credited to King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas and provides simple pleasures without being simplistic. It’s also the one song on the album where Segall performs every note. “Cry Cry Cry” feels like a 1960s girl group song, complete with fake pedal steel guitar and shimmering harmonies, while “My Lady’s on Fire” and “Alta” alternate quavering emotion with heavy rock chops.
For all of his fire, Segall has always excelled at songs which are just astonishingly pretty. “You Say All the Nice Things” delivers a loping bass melody, while finger-picked guitar travels in tandem. A heartfelt vocal accentuates the plaintive quality of the lyrics: “Do you really want to be with me? / And do you really want to stay with me?”
Much like Manipulator, Freedom’s Goblin closes with an epic track, in this case the 12-minute “And, Goodnight.” Opening with a real deal, slow blues jam that evolves into a gorgeous guitar solo, it soon reveals itself as an updated take on the title track from Segall’s 2013 acoustic album Sleeper.
The song also continues the atmosphere of genuine presence that might be the one connecting thread throughout Freedom’s Goblin’s many twists and turns. These are songs that don’t feel like they’ve been corrupted by overthinking or compressed by studio gloss. The vitality found here is the same quality that continues to place Ty Segall at the top of his — or anyone else’s — game.
Freedom’s Goblin was released by Drag City on January 26.
Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.