On his new Manipulator, post-garage rocker Ty Segall takes a swipe at the pre-glam era 

Glam Slam

Glam Slam

The burden of rock 'n' roll history presses heavily upon Ty Segall throughout his new full-length, Manipulator, and the record reveals the strain of ambition with every mutated garage-rock riff. At nearly 57 minutes, Manipulator could serve as a textbook for students of circa-1970 rock styles, and part of its charm is the way the music expertly describes how post-British Invasion rock evolved out of the dampness of garage rock and climbed onto dry land, where it became heavy. Segall references a confused period in rock history in ways that tame the confusion, which may mean he's a skilled pastiche artist, not a savior of rock. Manipulator is bubblegum pop rock for now people, and a formalist exercise that occasionally reveals something deeper than formalism.

Born in Laguna Beach, Calif., in 1987, Segall has released seven solo full-lengths, starting with his 2008 self-titled debut. He's also recorded as a member of The Epsilons and The Traditional Fools, and he's collaborated with lo-fi singer Tim Presley and with bassist and guitarist Mikal Cronin. A prolific artist, Segall released three records in 2012, and Manipulator arrives a full year after Sleeper, a collection of mostly acoustic songs.

In his ambition, Segall reminds me of Game Theory leader Scott Miller, who released such sprawling slices of intellectualized power pop as 1987's Lolita Nation and the following year's Two Steps From the Middle Ages. On these post-pop records, Miller created an alternate universe of rock — an idealized version of the kind of British Invasion pop that such '70s bands as Big Star and The Records subverted. Released around the time Segall was born, Game Theory's records took a specific moment in rock history — 1974 — as ground zero.

Segall cut his teeth playing garage rock in a San Francisco scene that had sported some fine bands, including The Mummies and The Numbers. But as he told writer David Bevan in a 2012 Spin piece about Twins, his third full-length of that year, freak-folk had taken hold in the Bay Area by 2005, when he arrived in town: "I was like, 'Where's rock 'n' roll? Where is it? Where did it go? Living rooms? Acoustic shows? What?' "

Rock transpires during Segall's 2009 Reverse Shark Attack, recorded with Cronin. "I Wear Black" adds crazed synthesizer sounds to a modified tango, and the result is phonetic pop in a post-Cramps mode. The track sounds something like The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion imitating the chaos of Alex Chilton's Like Flies on Sherbert. Meanwhile, "Drop Dead Baby" combines a deadpan vocal with Kinks-style riffs.

I like Reverse Shark Attack — the record manages to reference everything from The Kinks to lesser-known British bands such as The Creation and Christie. But Segall really starts to come into his own on Melted, released the same year. If I hesitate to call Melted a tour de force, it's because I think such terms are inadequate to describe Segall's self-conscious approach to rock. Much like Scott Miller on his Alex Chilton pastiches, Segall delves into the form perfected by Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, Jimi Hendrix and other late-'60s artists without using it to say anything very interesting. What Segall gives you on Melted — and indeed, on virtually all of his records, including Manipulator — is the feeling of rock without its heroic pop aspirations.

Segall's formalism limits Melted, but the record still puts forth his attention to detail and high-grade work ethic. "Caesar" once again uses Barrett's style, with a dash of The Move added for good measure. "Finger" is a psychedelic ballad in a Hendrix-meets-Arthur Lee mode. Melted is rock evolution for a museum exhibit — during "Caesar," Segall intones, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," and adds creepy piano and flute to the end of the track.

Manipulator also has its moments, and references not glam rock — for Segall, rock ground zero is 1971 — but the sound of Bowie's pre-glam The Man Who Sold the World. Segall has always been a garage rocker at heart, which may be the reason I sometimes find him arid. But I like "It's Over," which begins with a rubbery bass line before moving into a post-Axis: Bold as Love-style rocker.

Segall has been called a savior of rock — writing for Consequence of Sound, Christina Salgado refers to the present-day Segall as a performer who "never seems to rehash any exhausted clichés." But that's exactly what I think is wrong with Manipulator. Segall's rock textbook is immaculately rendered, but I'd prefer some old-fashioned clichés, some true emotion, some real exhaustion. Rock may be dead, but you will go on living.

Email Music@nashvillescene.com.

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