Graded on a Curve:
Ty Segall/White Fence, Hair

As its trippy cover image indicates, the collaborative effort of Ty Segall and White Fence’s Tim Presley conjures up a natty batch of tough-minded psychedelia. While not a life-altering affair, Hair confidently succeeds in its ambitions and stands as far more than just a one-off curiosity.

While Ty Segall is still most accurately identified as a garage-rock guy, it’s also true that he’s been showing some significant growth spurts of late. His record of last year Goodbye Bread made great strides in both the level of his songwriting and the scope of his presentation, all while remaining true to Segall’s organic, non-flash aesthetic. And while he was never really a stone-faced garage purist, his development remains worthy of commendation; ‘tis true that no one will ever fill the gap left by the far too soon departure of Jay Reatard, but Segall probably comes closest through the prolific and unfussy nature of his progressions.

Tim Presley is the man behind White Fence, a quietly impressive bedroom psyche solo project that also happens to flaunt a high level of productivity; four albums, a live cassette, and a 7-inch in a two year period, all released while remaining a member of the bands Darker My Love and The Strange Boys. If his approach in White Fence looks backward to such fine antecedents as Syd Barrett, Love, The Move, Donovan and the anemic glory of toy-town psyche, hearing just a small portion of his solo output makes it plain that he’s very much an artist of the moment. Presley’s not deliberately up-to-date, but his work still feels contemporary in its overall thrust.

With all this said, I frankly couldn’t help but feel a tad bit nervous after being tipped off to the imminent release of a joint venture between Segall and Presley. Collaborations between established artists have a tendency to either be a bit underwhelming (Broken Bells, for instance) or highly disappointing (not to flog a gift horse in the mouth, but how’s Lulu treating you lately?), and in this case I was unsure of how two musicians who’d so successfully forged a creative identity out of going it alone would reconcile with the give and take inherent to the exercise of artistic partnership, though the basis of my concern resided more with Segall than with Presley. It’s true that Ty has also spent time in full-fledged bands (five of them in fact; The Epsilons, The Traditional Fools, Sic Alps, Party Fowl, and Perverts), but he’s also been effectively solo since 2008, and that’s where his reputation is rightly based.

But I was also intrigued. The pairing of Segall and Presley was somewhat surprising since their styles aren’t a natural fit, but at the same time they were far from theoretically irreconcilable. In fact, I quite like it when the garage-born mindset nuzzles up against a psyche state of mind, finding it a case of two great sounds that sound great together. But I kept having this nagging suspicion that the duo would just jump into the studio with a combined head full of shared steam (or some other substance or two) and proceed to throw down a batch of songs that felt glorious as it happened but would unfortunately linger after the fact as something far less than earth-shattering. It’s the recurring sensation of All-Star Jam-itis Super-Sessioning its way into the depths of the record collection, taking up space and looking very necessary as it’s being passed over once again for some other less-grandiose selection, rarely if ever getting pulled out for a spin.

After ample time spent with Hair, I’m happy to report that my fears were misplaced. While not a masterpiece, this tidy if expansive eight-song collection leaves a lasting positive impression mainly because it doesn’t attempt to present an overt equality between the participants. Presley sings the majority of Hair’s songs and the album’s overall thrust is much closer to White Fence than to Segall’s extant work. This shouldn’t be read as Segall not asserting himself; to the contrary, he picks his spots exceptionally well, and his presence is certainly felt throughout the album. It just becomes apparent that he’s disinterested in matching Presley song for song in some spurious desire for creative democracy. Instead of the schizophrenia that might’ve resulted from that situation, Hair really breathes, its tunes calling out for repeated spins, the product of the two’s shared desire to simply make the best album possible.

Opener “Time” sets the scene exceptionally well. It begins with some faux-psyche garage action, then shifts into a strummy, mildly George Harrison-like mid-section and tacks on a distorted coda that feels a little bit like the young Times New Viking shooting for the sweet thunder of prime Crazy Horse. Quite a trip! The next track “I Am Not a Game” feels a bit like a combo of Thee Oh Sees, White Fence’s sunshine-psyche vibe and the sort of rhythmic drive that’s been Segall’s specialty over the last few years, and it all concludes with an ace rave-up.

I can’t help but hear Robert Schneider in Presley’s vocals, and this only abets “Easy Ryder” in sounding like something the Elephant 6 ringleader might’ve come up with had he been more inclined toward the grittier side of the ‘60s psychedelic experience; it shares a similar melodic approach, but is ultimately punchier and more stripped-down in delivery, more Nuggets and less Pet Sounds. The first part of “The Black Glove/Rag” alters this mode slightly, sounding a bit like Schneider shooting for the folkier side of Donovan. But the track’s second half gravitates away from this sensibility toward a fine survey of gradually mounting guitar scrawl, drum pound and vocal swagger.

Side two commences with the brief, echo-laden stomp of “Crybaby,” sounding like The Sonics in full-tilt glory, which means we’re solidly if momentarily on Segall’s turf. But “(I Can’t) Get Around You” tilts the proceedings back into Presley’s favor, and with gusto; the song is essentially a tug-of-war between Anglo derived pop-psyche (replete with nasal-blockage vocals) and some exquisite amp-fuzz circa ’66 Los Angeles. From there the loopy rocking of “Scissor People” and closing sing-along strum and bop of “Tongues” are just gravy.

After some consideration, it seems that Segall’s strongest overall contribution to Hair lies in how he tempts Presley’s approach out of the bedroom and onto a larger, bolder stage. Certainly there is nothing inferior or less-admirable about the oft-twisted intimacy that hovers around the existing White Fence material like an enveloping and intoxicating florescent cloud, and indeed Presley has already exerted flashes of a more extroverted nature. For example, there is “Harness” from last years’ Is Growing Faith, and the stellar Brit-DIY nod of “Baxter Corner” from his 2010 self-titled solo debut. But on Hair a vigorous quality of conception pulses throughout and it draws largely from Presley’s creative wheelhouse; much like Segall’s work on his lonesome, it’s not polished or pro, but it oozes with the same confident, punk-derived attitude.

Apparently, there is more in the can from this match-up, so it remains to be seen if Presley’s impact on Hair is representative of the whole, or if this album was sequenced to sit in contrast to an additional volume where Segall will assert the fiery potency of which he’s most capable. Either possibility would be equally welcome.

Graded on a Curve: B+

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