Ty Segall has a sort of musical A.D.H.D. Whether he’s starting a new band, collaborating with friends, or recording solo, Segall juggles multiple projects simultaneously and contributes songwriting to each. He stretches himself thin, but never to the point where it diminishes the quality of his work. If anything, he has too many good ideas — a hyper-creative prolificacy that results in a rough average of three full-length albums a year.
He credits this ability to being able to concentrate solely on music. It’s his job: He wakes up, drinks a cup of coffee, and writes songs. And, he records it all in lo-fi, using reel-to-reels and tape decks, which are cheap and always accessible. As improbable as it might sound for a guy with this deep of a discography, the guy probably has crates of unused material.
Strangely, Segall’s been silent for most of 2013, enjoying a much-deserved hiatus (aside from a couple singles with the deliriously sludgy FUZZ). It was during these idle months that Sleeper took shape — an all acoustic record and Segall’s most introspective to date. Psyched out reverb and fuzzy noise bombs turn up occasionally, but for the most part, this is sparse — just Segall in his San Francisco bedroom, cozied up next to the Tascam.
It’s a new experience hearing Segall separated from his guitar pedals for an extended period of time. Although his remarkable knack for melody has always been apparent, it’s finally the focal point of the songs, the lyrics taking more spotlight as well. There’s a reason for this; the songs are inspired by the recent passing of his father and the resulting family conflicts. “He passed away in December and yeah, to be honest, there was just a lot of things that happened with my mom and she didn’t handle anything the right way and she did some bad stuff,” Segall told NPR. “It was a very weird, intense time, you know?” Sleeper, then, is an emotional purge.
The opening title track sets a somber tone with powerfully struck chords and a self-harmonized croon from Segall. “A dream-sweet love,” he sings, evoking Dwight Twilley on the higher notes. He puts on a variety of voices throughout the album, as when adopting a British accent on “The Keepers” and “Crazy” — two of Sleeper’s finest tracks. The former is a rambling pop blues that would make Robert Pollard proud, the latter a fingerpicked ditty with startling falsettos and melodic flourishes. He gives advice to someone he addresses as “little one”: “Give your heart a brand new start/ Because he’s still here and he’s crazy.” The characters and romantic interactions on Sleeper range from charming to hilarious, with Segall settling into a storyteller role without being too lyrically direct.
In that aforementioned interview, Segall describes Sleeper as a “moment in time” album — the songs were all conceptualized under the same set of circumstances. Although atmospheric, the record’s cohesion causes it to drift by, some tracks bleeding into one another (the stretch of “The Man Man” through “Come Outside” is a blur). Depending on your behavior as a listener, this can be good or bad, as there aren’t any obvious singles here. For those who like to put something on their turntable and let it play front-to-back, to wallow in the mood of a record, Sleeper works well. It ambles along, confident in its own pace.
“The West” closes the album on a drifter country ballad, a strong conclusion to what feels like a 35-minute journey with Ty Segall. As a rock ‘n roller, he’s already proven himself more than capable with his raucous shows and guitar shredding. But as an artist, the mystery man of a thousand songs experiences quite the growth on Sleeper, shedding the enigma in lieu of his most honest and human recordings yet.
Essential Tracks: “The Keepers”, “Crazy”, and “The West”