Ty Segall is a psych-rock punk from the Bay Area. White Fence is the equally psych-heavy side project of Darker My Love’s Tim Presley. When they announced in early February that they’d be working on a collaborative album, they instantly became their scene’s version of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s The Throne (Watch the Bean Bag Chair, anyone?). But unlike the rap impresario’s slightly disappointing joint record, the eight-track Hair is a truly worthwhile example of teamwork, and an important, albeit understated, milestone in both Segall and Presley’s careers.
Perhaps what brought both men together is their shared ability to unite genres (blues, punk, garage, etc.) with deft skill and reckless abandonment. Holding back as a way to tease true followers, two of the album’s stand-out tracks, “Crybaby” and “Easy Rider”, are beyond laid-back as compared to the duo’s immense back catalog. At less than two minutes, “Crybaby” exemplifies their more punk-ish leanings, filling the tiny space with crazed drumming, cymbals exploding left and right, and a guitar part layered with loads of crunchy distortion that rides hills and valleys of intensity like an out-of-control steam train. It’s messy and oodles of fun, but there’s something succinct and orderly about the mayhem.
Relaxing even more than before, the lads deliver the LP’s surprise hit in “Easy Rider”. Their ode to more romantic ’60s garage music, approached with a distinctly Arctic Monkeys-esque aesthetic, it’s a leisurely ride through pop, exemplified by a steady drum groove and a guitar that rarely deviates from the slow, methodical twang. Presley’s vocals, though, are the true star of the number, sounding genuine with a kind, punk snarl, and cloaked in a vibe of rock and roll flirtation akin to a less gnarly Eric Burdon.
Turning the Weird-O-Meter up a bit, tracks like album opener “Time” and album closer “Tongues” find more potent ether to explore. The former is a sludgy brew of Eric Clapton-inspired ’70s rock, with everything melting and burning at a truly deliberate, psychedelic pace. What makes that groove even more consuming is the ending flourish, juxtaposing that lull with heavy currents of visceral amp discharge, like a magical giant that’s finally awoken to wreak aural havoc.
“Tongues” follows a decidedly similar path. Getting there, though, it amps up the Clapton vibe to true George Harrison levels of psychotropic beauty. Here, angelic harmonies brimming with bliss, the chug of heavy-handed drums, and an infectious guitar that practically squeals with elation combine to create an all-powerful groove-a-tational pull. Once more, though, the ending refrain adds a new sheen, turning the party not-so-groovy with the hiss of feedback. In particular, “Time” and “Tongues” shine because they’re built so well, slowly unveiling their crazier, noisier sides with expert timing and without forgoing their initial pop appeal.
As immensely joyous as those aforementioned cuts are, gleefully pushing boundaries with profound results, the album feels as if it is lacking something. Both Segall and Presley are dudes on top of their genre, continually inspiring themselves to innovate musical establishments that were forged long before they ever picked up instruments. As such, one might expect the album that was created from their combined genius to be truly sweltering; instead, most of the cuts, though spellbinding as they may be, are decidedly safe, with any real risks feeling somewhat plotted to maximize efficiency over experimentation.
If there’s one album track that attempts to be genuinely loose, it’s “The Black Glove/Rag”. The title and whispering intro alone should be enough to deem it a kooky gem, but the track builds on that with an previously unseen aura. Though the soaring rock groove may fall in line with other cuts, the ever-increasing volume and manic, static-y energy send it into hyperdrive. That, if anything, is what the record needs more of: a sense of freshness from two men who seem to exude it with every note, be it through newfound musical structures or combinations, or merely with emotional undercurrents, songs sounding as if they may leap upward at any moment. That sense of extraordinary and truly engaging expansion doesn’t have enough presence on this effort, and is the single deciding factor between a great album and a groundbreaking album.
Whatever reason led to the lack of next-level ultra-panache, be it nerves or a disagreement in the creative process, Hair is still a great step in the right direction for the psych-rock movement both Segall and Presley have championed. It swirls and it combusts, it annihilates and it soothes; best of all, it’s the perfect balance between retro and modern-day sensibilities. Fellas, clear your schedules for another play date pronto.
Essential Tracks: “Crybaby”, “Easy Rider”, “Time”, and “Tongues”
Feature artwork by Cap Blackard.