Ty Segall’s new album begins with four words, so soft and so quickly interrupted that they’re easy to miss: “Ladies and gentlemen, the—”
That’s it. Then, there are the guitars.
It’s quite the hook, and “Warm Hands” is an almost impossible song to turn off, once you’re sucked into it. The lyrics tell an enthralling story — “He said he wanted to talk to me / ‘Come here, let me take you home’ / My hands, they feel warm / My car can run” — and the guitars are so pressing, they evoke the feeling of, yes, getting into a car with somebody else driving, and then realizing too late what you’ve signed on for once you’re hurtling down the freeway at 100 miles an hour.
It’s hard to know what to expect from an artist like Segall. In a little over a decade of music-making, the California multi-instrumentalist has flexed his muscles in several entirely different directions, from the early lo-fi garage rock of early albums like the first Ty Segall and Goodbye Bread to the intentionally freeform explorations of his most recent record-length effort, last year’s Freedom’s Goblin. He’s proven himself to be among the most prolific artists currently making music, putting out practically an album a year, and occasionally even more.
His newest record, Deforming Lobes, is a live album recorded last year at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles. It features songs plucked from all corners of Segall’s musical repertoire, from 2010’s Melted to his second self-titled album, released in 2017. Segall’s approach to the live album seems to focus on one aspect while discarding any elements he deems unnecessary, including the fuzzy applause and cheering that artists usually leave in at the end of each track (to the effect of feeling like you’re at the concert), as well as any songs that wouldn’t have benefited the record.
Namely, Segall — already no stranger to long or unusual track lengths — capitalizes on the ways in which live tracks can expand and grow beyond their original span. The closing track, “Love Fuzz,” features perhaps one of the best examples of this, a prolonged section of chiming that evokes alien abduction and grows sharper and sharper as it dwindles, coaxing the listener into near-hypnosis before finally exploding back into the static and intense instrumentation that kicked off the meat of the track initially.
The crowning element of the album’s character has to be the Freedom Band, made up of Mikal Cronin (bass), Charles Moothart (drums), Emmett Kelly (guitar) and Ben Boye (piano). Guitars don’t sing like this everywhere. The album is only eight tracks long, making for a very tightly packed 35 minutes, so it’s hard to pick standouts knowing that we’re already experiencing the cream of the crop. But “Warm Hands,” the opening track and the longest one on the album at almost 10 minutes, practically demands that the listener give the other seven songs a listen, too. “Cherry Red” features an instrumental section that threatens to blow its own top off. One almost wonders whether the applause and shouts of the audience members were done away with because they simply would have added too much extreme dimension to an album already bursting with it.
The album is all about reining in chaos into something distilled and singularly creative. Each track is a live performance at a show, and yet the recordings are largely honed back to the music itself, to the point that at times the album sounds like a more frenetic version of a studio effort (in a good way). The music itself sounds purposeful, yet totally unbridled, infused with a sense of prehistoric rock that comes back and back to us throughout the ages, surfacing over and over again in new ways.