Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ty Segall Band Slaughterhouse Review

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When I was maybe five or six, my dad and one of his motorcycle buddies took me to the Haight.  I don’t remember much from the trip except going into a headshop and exploring Amoeba, but I clearly remember that by the time it was over, I never wanted to grow up.  It’s not that I had any moral or ethical problems with it, but seeing as I’d spent most of my life at the time among building blocks and primary-colored alphabet letters, the Haight was the darkest, scuzziest, nastiest, most rebellious thing I’d ever seen.  Tattoos, heavy metal, drugs, hippies--things I barely understood but knew from somewhere or other to stay away from, at least at my age.  I suppose you could say I felt violated, but at the same time I felt overwhelmed by the knowledge that there were worlds and worlds out there that I could not comprehend.  For the first time in my life, I became truly aware that there were billions of people on this earth living different lives in different places.  And upon listening to the Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse, I feel that same feeling once again but am able to revel in it.  It’s a filthy, primal record, but it also seems to come from somewhere beyond this earth.

Slaughterhouse opens with nearly a minute of howling, screeching guitar noise.  While guitar noise-wankery is not uncommon on these sorts of records, there’s something about the way Ty Segall manipulates his guitar that makes this particular passage sound like a sort of awakening.  It’s the sound of a slumbering rock n’ roll god-warrior being awakened, and the song that ensues, “Death,” is the sound of that creature on a rampage--and it doesn’t stop, at least not for the duration of the record.

This is a chaotic record, but Segall has always had a knack for organizing chaos.  On his solo breakout Melted, he transformed spastic garage-noise freakouts into concise pop songs; on his recent White Fence collaboration Hair, he harnessed the energy and creativity of a jam session and used it to forge catchy tunes.  Likewise, Slaughterhouse usually feels like a jam--yet the songs and the structure on the album are tighter than on most less chaotic records.  It’s as if the less control Segall seems to have over the proceedings, the more easily the music falls together.  Perhaps it’s due to the inclusion of a true backing band--the trio backing up Segall is clearly extremely skilled, providing the same muscle the Carrion Crawler/The Dream lineup of Thee Oh Sees gave to John Dwyer’s songs.

It’s tempting to think of Slaughterhouse as a no-nonsense, Paleolithic rock record, something that’s the product of sweaty humans in crowded garages.  The sounds are certainly that way: this is un-showy, non-ironic, straightforward, heavy garage-rock.  Yet there’s something supernatural about Slaughterhouse.  Where it comes from is difficult to discern: it could be the monotonous melodies on tunes like “Death,” the way the songs take on a mantra-like quality as they chug along, the way they sound like they were recorded in a cave deep in the earth.  

These are also the things that prevent Slaughterhouse from being mere throwback.  Like Hair, Slaughterhouse is a classic rock album made with modern sensibilities.  The cavernous production; the use of noise; the constant almost concept-album momentum--these are all things that remind one they are not listening to Nuggets or the Stooges’ Fun House or any other record before it.  Like all of Segall’s best work, Slaughterhouse presents classic sounds as seen through the artistic lens of a contemporary artist.  But while it’s one thing to use classic sounds to inspire the simple thrill of recognition, Slaughterhouse uses them to not only create a different sort of thrill entirely but to remind you why those sounds are so thrilling in the first place.

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