Ty Segall’s career so far seems to be found on one simple maxim – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He’s been putting out album after album of neo-psychedelic garage rock for years now and they all manage to sound like solid efforts. Manipulator marks his seventh solo release and shows that he’s still capable of putting out some good material, but whether or not that makes Manipulator a good album remains to be seen.
The opening title track shows that Segall still retains a lot of his retro sensibilities as he builds a song around a fuzzy organ melody, creating a wall of noise that’s punctuated only by Segall’s high-pitched guitar solos and silky psychedelic vocals. Tall Man Skinny Lady features many of the same musical aspects but also makes them sound more pleasant and accessible at the same time. The Singer introduces a doo-wop rhythm that brings to mind parts of Frank Zappa’s subversive 1960s output, though Segall’s vocals sound more like David Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust.
It’s Over has a slick bassline and good use of feedback, though Segall’s vocals sound distractingly snotty here. A noisy conclusion sort of saves the track, though. Feel is an improvement as it mixes grungy riffs with lilting vocals and changes things up by including a drum solo in the middle. The Faker is another track that, while not bad by any measure, only serves to remind me of Segall’s musical influences instead of standing out on its own merits (it combines Deep Purple songcraft with Beatles vocals to reasonable effect).
It’s around this point that Manipulator seems to fall into a bit of a rut as Segall churns out decent but not amazing songs, alternating between hazy freak-outs and mellow ballads. The freak-outs feature some interesting choices such as strings in The Clock or the slightly sinister keyboard hook that drives The Connection Man. The pattern breaks with The Hand, one of the lengthier tracks on the album and probably the best. At once chilled-out and on-edge, it hones every strength on the album to a fine point and features some of the best guitar work here.
Susie Thumb makes for yet another upbeat number full of distortion, while Don’t You Want To Know? (Sue) is a sort of sequel that features sparse instrumentation. Things kick back into high gear with The Crawler and Who’s Producing Who?, two heavy psych-rockers that somehow fail to leave much of an impression. The Feels also brings the noise, but in a much more sedate manner, while Stick Around makes for another solid long track and closes the album out just fine.
One of the complaints I levelled against the Segall-produced For the Recently Found Innocent is that, while White Fence was capable of making some good garage rock, the album as a whole didn’t quite have enough strong or interesting material to sustain a forty-minute album. Manipulator is the first of Segall’s solo albums to exceed the forty-minute mark, yet for all his talent with multiple instruments and his clear focus on what kind of music he wants to make, Segall still has problems making a consistently interesting album and this album’s length just exacerbates those problems. This album is still pretty fun and none of the songs are out-and-out awful, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a classic.