Ty Segall has built his career on being prolific. Through his various projects, the garage-rock luminary has released more than a dozen albums since 2008 that all serve up a similar blend of glam vocals, lo-fi sludge, and psychedelic guitars. He’s been reliably good — even when he’s deviating into mystical acoustic experiments like 2013’s Sleeper — and with 2014’s Manipulator, seemed to have finally nailed the perfect blend of cheap-beer swagger and flower-power melody. But with his new Emotional Mugger, he takes a step back.
Many of Emotional Mugger‘s tracks sound more like half-baked stylistic exercises than true songs. “Breakfast Eggs” and “Mandy Cream” come off as muddled sketches of Segall’s typically sharp writing. And while guitars often highlight his work, here they obstruct: “Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priestess” features an acceptable riff that irritates when repeated for minutes on end. The distortion of penultimate track “W.U.O.T.W.S.” — essentially three minutes of snippets from the rest of the album stitched together by static — is the type of indulgence that would’ve even been a stretch on a stronger record.
Even so, Segall is too talented to populate an album exclusively with missteps. The opening cut “Squealer” is awesomely ominous — down to Segall signaling the entrance of a guitar solo by sneering “That’s right.” And “Candy Sam” is easily one of the strongest songs in Segall’s extensive discography, an instantly hummable nugget with just enough scuzz. These highlights keep Emotional Mugger from being an abject failure — but Segall doesn’t usually deal in mediocrity.
Plenty of other garage-rockers release aesthetically uncreative music with uninspired songwriting — it’s hard to come up new tricks for a decades-old sound — but Segall imbues the genre with quirky flourishes and exceptional melodies that set him apart. Although Emotional Mugger isn’t a bad record — Segall probably doesn’t have one of those in him — it’s among his weakest releases yet. Even this deep into a phenomenal career, the great are allowed to falter.