The old saying goes that too much of a good thing will inevitably become a bad thing. But in fact, when it comes to the output of California guitar hero Ty Segall, it appears the opposite is more accurate.
Up until now, Segall has released albums at a remarkably accomplished pace, with 2012 alone bearing three full-lengths under Segall’s name. But with Manipulator, Segall took a more measured approach. Constructed over a 14-month period, Manipulator fittingly sounds like the fusion of every incarnation of Segall we’ve seen in the past. But from just listening to the album, this clearly isn’t a development for the better.
On previous releases, Segall has thrown himself face first into whichever era of rock seems most tantalizing to him at the time. With Sleeper, he conquered the weary-eyed acoustic singer-songwriter platform. On Slaughterhouse, he tore through some of the heaviest jams of his career, with the help of his Ty Segall Band. Manipulator, if anything, has a somewhat glammier vibe than anything Segall has released, but ultimately lacks the kind of character Segall’s excelled at so satisfyingly in the past. Where before, Segall was a constantly a shape-shifting jack-of-all-trades, but on Manipulator he’s settled into a kind of wishy-washy middle zone — not gnarly enough to really lose control, and not melancholy enough to ever get genuinely emotional.
This core problem doesn’t even address the major issue that the album itself is about as overly long as it gets. Previous entries in the Segall cannon have been exercises in the 30-minute, unobtrusive song cycle, whereas Manipulator’s 57 minutes feel like an endless parade of careless sound-alikes, with more than a couple songs that add practically nothing to Segall’s stew. By the end of the whole ordeal, Segall’s guitar riffs (and even his voice) become grating in its single-notedness.
All this is not to say that the album doesn’t have its highlights. “The Singer” has a slow-burning chorus that wonderfully mixes violins, electric guitar and Segall’s whine, to great effect. “Green Belly” recalls the Stones’ more countrified moments, with tasteful restraint. And “Mister Main,” with its lighter-than-air groove, sounds like a high point off a later-period Beck release. Moments like these songs hint at what Manipulator could have been – modestly poppy while still packed full of big choruses.
As-is, however, Manipulator is among the weakest releases Segall has released. Without direction or a mindset to inhabit, Segall feels lost, and his songs begin to feel generic and lacking for creativity. Manipulator is too polished to really be considered “lo-fi” anymore, yet the sound still lacks personality, like a bargain bin approximation of 21st Century nostalgia rock. Segall is clearly a restless songwriter, so there’s plenty reason to believe that his greatest heights haven’t been reached yet, but Manipulator suggests that maybe next time he just shouldn’t sweat it so much.