Nicole Atkins Talks Ty Segall’s Emotional Mugger

The prolific psych-rocker's new album is all wicked come-ons, guitars in street fights and depraved children wanting more. It is full-on Zen hedonism.

For this piece, I was going to just post a YouTube video of Satan riding a unicorn into outer space, but I couldn’t find one. To me, that’s what this record sounds like. This is a tough record to write about because it shouldn’t be written about, it should just be listened to. Frequently and at high volumes. Alas, I’ll do my best to try to give a little insight into what I hear in Emotional Mugger.

As a promotion for Emotional Mugger, Ty Segall made a hotline. Call 1-800-281-2968 and you get a recorded message of a disturbingly sinister Segall “itching to fill the holes of your ego.” It’s scary and mocking in tone, but done with such a wink and a nod to those fun 800 lines of the past that it makes you want to listen to the message over and over. You’ll find yourself honestly wondering if you are looking for a daddy or a child or, if you have a child, how can you hide it from this mad man. Then I hear the record and it all makes sense. The sound is an evil you can warmly welcome. I guess my ego has lots of holes to be filled.

Ty Segall sets himself apart from others in today’s garage and psychedelic family not just for the fact that he’s its most prolific writer, but that with every album he gets closer and closer to becoming a fully realized character of his own design. What I mean is, he’s always dabbled in T. Rex-style glam, but here it sounds like he has finally fully committed. But he isn’t copying, either — this is unique stuff, more The Rocky Horror Picture Show creator Richard O’Brien than Bowie, with a dash of the dark cartoons of Rock and Rule. On the opening track, “Squealer,” he sings, “I feel it, I feel it, do you believe it?” — and I do believe it. Listening to this, I can actually see a slacker hippy kid with lasers running up his legs, transforming him into an evil alien rock god, feeling it, hard. Like, if you got into a fight, you’d want those riffs backing you up. There’s a manic energy to this album. A theatrical madness that sees Segall as its main character on a quest to get what he wants. It’s not love, it’s not just drugs, it’s everything. Full-on Zen hedonism.

But what’s most interesting here are the sonics. It’s in the way Segall harmonizes glam riffs, makes them gloriously evil and then chops them up with little guitar chunks that gleefully remind me of later-period Frank Zappa at his most fun. There’s a darkness throughout the record, but the songs don’t seem burdened by it. They’re buoyant and uplifting. Floating through the galaxies and destroying tiny planets, zipped on zap and rocket fuel, and none of it seems trite.

Another thing that sets Ty apart from his contemporaries is his ability to combine three or four separate hooks and colors to build the song into its own unique thing, rather than just chug along like a one-trick pony nugget. As in the track “Diversion.” It starts out with an electric zoom that beams listeners up into the spaceship where they witness the Ramones dancing with aliens at a party hosted by Gary Glitter. Everything all black and purple and sparkly, yet tough.

On the title track, “Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess,” the soundscape paints a picture in my head of machines made in origami, all gray and light blue and hot pink, moving – or, rather, strutting – across the concrete before burning up into ash.

Emotional Mugger is all wicked come-ons, guitars in street fights, depraved children wanting more, more, more. It’s a dance party at the devil’s crib, and after Ty Segall gets what he wants, you’re gonna be left all alone in the glittery aftermath, but you won’t feel left cold. In fact, you can’t wait to go back next weekend.

Nicole Atkins is an Asbury Park, NJ-based rock singer, songwriter, producer and comic illustrator. She also dabbles in the dark arts. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram