In a little more than seven years, young sludgster Ty Segall has released dozens of albums, EPs, and singles, whether by himself or with the plethora of bands that he’s played with. In 2012 alone, he released three full-lengths, each in a different incarnation: solo, with his touring band, and with White Fence. Generally speaking, an artist who releases that amount of material is either brilliant or a fool. (Occasionally, both.) The foolish move is putting out three albums of mediocrity rather than trimming the fat and making the best single album possible. The brilliant move is making three almost universally acclaimed albums because, as a musician, they must; the pen won’t stop flowing and the muse wouldn’t leave them alone. Ty Segall chose the latter. On Sleeper, he follows up this whirlwind of activity with his greatest and most radically different work yet, firmly cementing himself as a forward-thinking, artistically driven musician.
Though he’d hinted at a sonically softer side on 2011’s Goodbye Bread, on Sleeper, Segall trades in his noisy ragged glory for an album that’s almost exclusively acoustic. With no wall of noise to blow through, the album works solely on Segall’s craft as a songwriter. Refreshing earnestness has always been one of his strengths, and Sleeper, inspired by the death of his father, is an honest study on loneliness, heartbreaking without ever becoming maudlin.
It’s also still weird, something Segall probably can never truly shake off. A rich diet of Syd Barrett and early T. Rex tunes has always suited him well, and it shines here, especially with the folky-groove of “Sweet C.C.” and the ghostly title track. On “The Keepers,” there’s a light bed of drums to back up the cyclical chord progression and Bowie-esque vocal cadence that’s all very hypnotic and pretty, until a remarkably stark line—“The youth is wasting the earth’s last breath”—unsuspectingly stops listeners cold. Despite the sometimes-grave subject matter, Sleeper is still a pleasurable listen (see the hooky highlight, “The Man Man,” and the delta blues of “6th Street”), an album that works during the day and in bed at night, no surprise given its recurring obsession with dreaming.
Ty Segall will no doubt go back to making the raucous punk that is his bread and butter, but it’s nice to hear him stop and catch his breath once in a while. And somebody who can make taking a rest so interesting is someone to continue to watch.