It’s hard to talk about Ty Segall without mentioning the sheer amount of music he’s put out, and what that means for the people who listen to it. In the time between the release of his last LP Manipulator and this week’s Emotional Mugger, Segall has released two EPs, a live album, and an LP of T-Rex covers. His solo output stands somewhere in the dozens, not including his frequent collaborations with other Bay Area bands like Sic Alps, White Fence, and Thee Oh Sees. Inevitably, with a career as prolific as Segall’s, there comes a time when it becomes difficult to distinguish one album from the next.; it’s all a murk of fuzzy guitars and tongue-in-cheek metaphors. But on Emotional Mugger, it’s as if Segall has suddenly found what he’s been looking for, and he’s about ready to blow it up.
Segall's gonna blow everything up
Up until now each one of Segall’s albums has had a specific sound: 2008’s short, grime-glazed self-titled debut was an amateurish introduction to his world. 2010’s Melted was an album of minimal, lean riff sessions; an exercise in making songs as fast and as hard as possible. And 2014’s Manipulator was the strongest break so far from Segall’s oeuvre. A 17-track double album, it stretched out and languished in the jamminess of a guitar solo like nothing Segall had done previously. But Emotional Mugger came with its own set of rules. The album was distributed to music journalists on a VHS tape of either the 1993 film My Life or 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Segall debuted an Emotional Mugger hotline (1-800-281-2968), and a PSA in which he described the concept of the album: "Emotional mugging is a psychoanalytic subject-to-subject exchange formed as a response to our hyper-digital sexual landscape."
Despite that logline, Emotional Mugger sometimes feels like an album Segall made just for the heck of it. But it also feels like it’s trying to escape from Segall’s self-imposed constraints that have been stacking up for years. The album roll-out was the first indication of this, and the songs themselves often seem unable to decide which direction they want to go in. "California Hills" stands somewhere between Pink Floyd and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. "Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priestess" straddles glam and garage rock without trying to choose one or the other. On "Diversion," Segall sounds like he’s channeling both Marc Bolan and Nobunny’s Justin Champlin. But the song’s lyrics ("Diversion / I’m back, I’m back, I’m back") suggests Segall himself wants credit for this one. Then "W.U.O.T.W.S." takes parts of "Diversion" and literally plays them in reverse.
It's a weird album, but it's still Ty Segall
But while the album tends to drag, there’s also nothing truly off-putting about it. It’d be hard to argue that Segall doesn’t have a knack for writing a good song, and Emotional Mugger doesn’t do anything to disprove that. Despite their names, "Breakfast Eggs" and "Big Baby Man" are memorable — more for the churning guitars than the bulky and parodic way Segall growls big man at the end of the latter.
Emotional Mugger is a little more concerned with being weird than most Ty Segall albums, but it’s still a Ty Segall album: you always know, within a few degrees of accuracy, what you’re going to get. Emotional Mugger is no different, but it makes the process of getting there a little more tangly.