Ty Segall & White Fence’s “Joy” Proves That Psych Opuses Need Not Be Long to Sound Epic
To call Ty Segall “prolific” is a gross understatement—over the last decade, the dude’s recorded output has jumped from proto-rock and garage punk heaviness to glammy Bolan affectations, lysergic-dipped acoustic balladry and back again, rendering him mischievously hard to pin down.
One notable highlight from Segall’s ever-expanding discography is Hair, his 2012 collaborative album with White Fence (the moniker of fellow San Francisco psych-battered songwriter Tim Presley). Hair eschewed the split album’s typical dip in quality with a set of paisley freak-pop that simultaneously sounded out-of-time and earnestly living in the moment, showcasing each artist’s songwriting strengths on a platform that was hoisted up by the other’s talents.
that the boundary between the two and their respective stylistic tendencies is more blurred this second time around, as both artists flex their impressively varied propensity for prankster-level, Barrett-esque acid pop, Blue Cheer-level riffage, thrash punk, and percussion-driven groovers. That all of this is explored through a full song cycle in just 30 minutes is more impressive still.
It may seem at first a contradiction, but Joy reminds the listener that psych opuses have the time-bending ability to simultaneously feel epic and not be all that long. Both Country Joe and the Fish’s 1967 genre-defining work Electric Music for the Mind and Body and Jefferson Airplane’s sophomore masterpiece, 1967’s After Bathing at Baxter’s, clock in at just over 40 minutes; Moby Grape’s self-titled 1967 debut and Blue Cheer’s 1968 debut, Vincebus Eruptum, meanwhile, each clock in at just over a half-hour. These records traffic in existential ideas, build worlds, and oscillate wildly between pastiches of noise and tuneful anthems. They’re also all the products of San Francisco-based artists, a geographic distinction that Segall and Presley share with their psychotropic forefathers.
Why is it that we associate psych music with epic song lengths? Do we look to Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, King Crimson or post-Barrett Floyd as our most hallowed examples of the genre? Even as Hawkwind pioneered Space Rock in the ‘70s, their records seldom clipped above 45 minutes. The old punk Phil Mercade of ‘70s New York punk band The Senders once told me that punk rock’s focus on directness and brevity was a direct reaction to the overindulgence of prog. By reaching back to the direct punch of old rock’n’roll and r&b 45’s, New York punks became much more than John Waters-worshipping vintage vinyl fetishists—they found a way to rebel against bloat with brevity. It’s no reach to assume that Segall and Presley are on the same trip with Joy.
But what’s this trip about? We get hints on “A Nod,” a mellow affirmation of self love in times of digitally-bolstered, phony support: “Bank says I need money/My friends say I need followers/But I want to believe in me.” The gorgeous tune suggests that the two men joined together with the function of a support group, one that may or may not be a forced reach for joy in uncertain political times (as an allusion to Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music’s right wing political views would suggest “Other Way”).
The repetition of the phrase “we see oceans baby blue” in the opening track, “Beginning” and “Good Boy” also suggests a certain level of forced optimism. To unpack this phrase from the minds of its writers (and also consider that Segall is a surfer) is to acknowledge that an ocean has many colors, baby blue being the least dark, and that to see it at its lightest hue is a conscious choice. The lyrics of “Body Behavior” similarly suggest the body can influence the mind in this way:” Body behaviour/Did you see yourself turning?/Can’t see past your blue skies/Can’t see past your dark skies/Your hands moving.” Maybe that’s where the need for self love comes in.
Cogent narrative or no, Joy runs seamlessly from track to track off the potent fumes of its architects. And that’s something that needn’t be realized through a long, overwrought epic—if the ideas are mutually understood by all artists involved, and the relationship is strong, it doesn’t take a double-disc narrative or White Album-length indulgence to let your story sing.