Barely has the dust settled on his last escapade, and Ty Segall, Californian dreamer and one of the most prolific creators in all of rock’n’roll, sidles by once more. Just for context, Segall’s 2021 saw not one but two new collections of music. The first was Harmonizer, a ripping rock album that dropped without warning or fanfare in August 2021. The second expanded Ty’s brief yet further – a film score for director Matt Yoka’s Whirlybird, a documentary following the Los Angeles News Service, whose roving helicopter tracked wrongdoings across LA’s urban sprawl throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Time for a pause? Of course not.
Seasoned Ty watchers will know that he tends to follow a zig with a zag, and so it is with Hello, Hi. It does, broadly, what Harmonizer did not. Where that album was electric, synthetic and raw, Hello, Hi is largely acoustic, rustic-sounding and steeped in a sort of fey, offbeat prettiness. Where Harmonizer felt like the work of a full live band, Hello, Hi bears the mark of a record made alone in isolation, or something close to it. Ty’s album covers always do a good job of obliquely communicating their contents, and this is no exception. A black and white photo taken by Ty’s wife Denée on a hiking trail near their Topanga Canyon home, it pictures him balanced impishly on a tree branch, holding his guitar out in front of him like a talisman. Think a freaky flower child, or perhaps a mischievous forest spirit, spinning out riddles in exchange for safe passage.
This isn’t an all-new mode for Segall. Written and recorded at Ty’s own home studio, Harmonizer, in 2020, it clocks in at a relatively lean 10 songs and 34 minutes, making it of a piece with albums like Goodbye Bread and Sleeper: song-focused affairs that advance a consistent sound and style, as opposed to the pinball eclecticism of Freedom’s Goblin or Manipulator.
Hello, Hi brings a couple of Ty’s prime influences to the fore. His catalogue features a rich seam of songs that channel Marc Bolan – think Manipulator’s “Don’t You Want To Know (Sue)”, or Sleeper’s “Sweet CC”. Bolan’s influence – specifically the psychedelically inclined folk of his early Tyrannosaurus Rex incarnation – is writ all over Hello, Hi. Another touchstone might be Donovan – “Blue” seems to channel his whimsical delivery and a taste for surreal lyrical flights of fancy. Yet as ever, Ty wears his influences in a relaxed manner: tried on like a paisley shirt or feather boa, then discarded.
Is this, perhaps, Ty’s lockdown album? Certainly, there are moments that seem to capture something of the pandemic experience – a life spent between four walls, the stir-crazy effects of isolation, the days charted by the rhythm of morning passing into night. Some songs evoke home as a place of safety and comfort. “Good Morning” opens the album in a mood of dazed romantic bliss. “Good morning, lady/We can stay inside/The world is where we both lay/On the pillows we are fine”, Ty sings in a sleepy falsetto before layering his multi-tracked voice in a sort of dawn chorus. Elsewhere, the mood is more curdled and strange. “Saturday Pt 2” commences with a dismal scene: “In a room we are waiting/Living life behind closed doors/Only singing about the flat and painted drywall/And concrete floors…”. But then suddenly the guitars begin to bite, the drums kick in, and around the song’s midpoint, a saxophone solo from long-time collaborator Mikal Cronin lifts the song onto a higher plane. In moments like this, you can visualise Ty sat at home, using music to blast himself out of boredom and into a new reality.
A pervasive mood of isolation makes this one of Ty’s most introspective albums. Within, there are intimate love lullabies; songs that go down rabbit holes of ruthless self-doubt and self-examination; lyrics that reflect on the idea of changing yourself to make life easier, or to please another. I want to start over, but who would I be?/All the mistakes I’ve made are why I am me, he sings on “Over”. But Segall is not one to play things completely straight, so these sorts of ruminations are pockmarked with twists of artifice and sudden impositions of surreal imagery. “Don’t you feel better/When you’re wearing my cement sweater?” sings Ty on “Cement”, a track that somehow feels stranger each time you listen to it. The vocal is precisely enunciated and full of curious, arch mannerisms; the chord changes have a prickly, unresolved quality that ensures any genuine comfort dangles just out of reach; and the track ends with Ty’s voice layered into cascading harmonies, la-la-la-ing himself silly.
Even where Hello, Hi grapples with difficult feelings, there’s a craft and prettiness to the music that transcends any bummer vibes. Ty handles most of the drumming himself in his characteristically swinging, Ringo-ish style. “Over” and “Distraction” have a limber, freewheeling sense of momentum that nudges them towards the folk-jazz nexus currently occupied by figures like Ryley Walker. And there’s an album highlight in the shape of “Don’t Lie”, a deep cut by the Oakland-based lo-fi group The Mantles. Ty has some past form in delivering cover versions that tear the original a new one, but here he takes the opposite route. The original’s breezy paisley-shaded garage is transformed into a delicate acoustic hymn that accentuates the lyric about overcoming bad and sad times. It’s a gem.
And while it’s hardly the album’s set style, here and there Hello, Hi rocks out. The title track is the record’s one real barnstormer – three swift minutes of glammy chorusing, churning riffs and thundering caveman drums that’s enjoyable, and not just for its explosive incongruity. “Looking At You”, meanwhile, is a hangover from the Harmonizer sessions. A band effort that sees Ty assisted by Charles Moothart on drums and Ben Boye on Rhodes, its folk-rocky strum sports a scorching fuzz guitar solo, but also a beautiful “Dear Prudence”-style coda that revolves round and round like a ballerina in a music box.
So yes, Hello, Hi is one of Ty’s most lean and focused albums to date. But the closer you get, the more you spot its idiosyncrasies. Heartfelt and playful, homespun and surreal, down in the dumps and head-over-heels in love: here is Ty Segall in all his wonderful contradictions. After nine tracks in which the walls sometimes seem to be closing in, on the closing “Distraction” the door swings open. “So sing me a distraction/I want to know what happens/We’ll take a walk outside”, he sings. And with a sweet goodbye, the record ends, and Ty is gone – off to find his next adventure. Where will we find him next? Who knows, but past evidence suggests we won’t be waiting long.