Ty Segall's "Emotional Mugger"

By Allyson Bills

It’s the beginning of 2016, and this means a new Ty Segall album. Why not? The twenty-eight-year-old garage rocker from Orange County has never played by the rules. Segall has released a solo album every year since 2008 when he began his solo career. In promoting his latest release Emotional Mugger, the follow-up to 2015’s sonic Ty Rex on his Drag City Records, Segall issued the album in the form of VHS to various press outlets. Thankfully, for Segall’s fans, the album will be available in more accessible mediums, because I honestly don’t know many people who would listen to an album released on VHS.

Also, the question bears to mind: what is an “emotional mugger?” As defined in mxdwn.com, emotional mugging is the “psychoanalytic subject-to-subject exchange formed as a response to our hyper-digital sexual landscape in our current age of digital intimacy.”  With this being said, Emotional Mugger is perhaps Segall’s most cathartic work to date-if you are into that sort of thing.

Emotional Mugger is not the easiest album to digest, and this is evident from the album’s first track, “Squealor.” This song begins with the sound of someone walking to and starting their vehicle and turning into dense noise of petal reverbs and synthesizers. The duration of “Squealor” repeats with a ton of guitar solos with Segall repeating the lyrics with the question of “And I feel it // Do you see it? // Do you believe it?” Despite the dark subject matter of the album’s title, the lyrics in “Squealor” are hopeful to say the least.

California Hills,” is a gangly, Led Zeppelin-Like track that begins the Candy Queen theme, which is prevalent on the rest of Emotional Mugger. This is an eloquent track, lyrically talking about the disconnection of generations: “American nightmare // Guilted generation // Fingers on the pulse of their parents’ alienation from histories of Western Civilization.” Musically, it’s disorganized with bursts of shredding guitars, and then Segall hastily going into verse, which detracts from the lyrical substance of “California Hills.” 

The title track, “Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess,” sounds like a distorted The Beatles tune. Although this song attempts to delve further into the meaning of “emotional mugging,” (“I’m an emotional mugger like a bag of candy // I’ll give you pleasure”) the excessive riffs and synthesizers again takes away from this 5:21 minute song. Whereas “Breakfast Eggs” is an ideal length for a garage rock track at 2:35 minutes with its sexual-in-nature lyrics of (talking about Candy Queen), “I want her to be my Uncle Sam”. “Breakfast Eggs” is one of the few bright spots on the album because I didn’t have to be subjected to an unnecessarily long track.

Speaking of bright spots, “Diversion” is also one of those sparse shining moments on Emotional Mugger. It adheres to Segall’s signature garage rock sound, but he adds a melodic shoe-gaze twist, which is rarely seen in his material. It almost sounds like a flickering TV screen through the song, which is a refreshing twist. “Baby Big Man (I Want A Mommy)” is honestly nothing too memorable; it’s a filler track with excessive synthesizers galore with the end of the song being the sound of a dial tone.

Mandy Cream” is one of Segall’s more overall catchy tunes, and on Emotional Mugger. Segall’s guitar work compliments the flowy rhythm section that actually made me forget about the self-absorbed lyrical nature of the song of “I think you’re talkin’ about yourself.” My short-lived enjoyment of Emotional Mugger continues into “Candy Sam,” which almost reminds me of The Jesus and Mary Chain. However, don’t let that reference fool you, because “Candy Sam” is actually an upbeat tune as far as Emotional Mugger is concerned. “Candy Sam” encompasses all the variety and hooks that are missing on this album. This groovy tune has harmonies and an acapella ending with acoustic guitar. It’s the one of the only tracks on this album that’s not overdone musically. Segall almost had me at “Make me believe // Make me see.” If only.

Squealor Two” is apparently the predecessor to Emotional Mugger’s first track, “Squealor,” but with Segall’s guitar work more sludgy in tone than the former. Again, the “candy,” sexual nature theme plays into the lyrics, “It’s the flavor that I like to eat.” Honestly, there is nothing too memorable about “Squealor Two.” It appears that adding this song is self-indulgent on Segall’s part so he can do more jamming. Whatever floats his boat, I guess.

Perhaps the most unnecessary track on Emotional Mugger belongs to “W.V.O.T.W.S.” It’s basically an instrumental track laced with synthesizers and guitar distortion, adding in bursts of chaotic noise. It’s probably one of Segall’s most “lo-fi” tracks off this album. In the background overplayed with a myriad of synthesizers are repeats of the songs off Emotional Mugger thus far that sounds like a rewind of a VHS. “Diversion” is the most audible throughout “W.V.O.T.W.S.”

Emotional Mugger ends with “The Magazine,” which is actually one of the decent tracks off this album. It’s both disconnecting lyrically (“You don’t need a reason // It’s all in the magazine”) and musically with the pulsating bass lines and hand-clapping. “The Magazine” also finally demonstrates that Segall actually has vocal variety with him signing falsetto on some parts. What a fitting number to end an otherwise meager Emotional Mugger.

Segall isn’t going to win any new fans with Emotional Mugger, instead will keep his existing fan base intact who eagerly wait for his albums on a yearly basis. Emotional Mugger doesn’t lend itself to accessibility. Overall, there was too much excessive noise on a majority of the tracks that made me forget, or to even care, to learn more about an “emotional mugger.” If you are a Ty Segall fan, then you will love this album. On the other hand, if you aren’t, then you should pass on Emotional Mugger.

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