Those who want to make the argument that rock music is dead will have a hard time proving it upon listening to Ty Segall’s colossal testament to the ’70s most iconic sounds, “Freedom’s Goblin.” In past years, Segall established himself as the face of the modern garage-rock scene with a plethora of independent releases churned out at an unusually high rate. In these efforts, Segall seemed to be on a mission to subject listeners to as much cacophonous noise as he could – his untamed, fuzzed-out guitar riffs on lo-fi home recordings becoming a trademark of sorts. As Segall’s music spread to listeners outside of his San Francisco hometown, the rocker never compromised his homespun sound and thus became a beloved luminary to basement-musicians everywhere.
At just a glance, it’s not difficult to identify “Freedom’s Goblin” as a behemoth of an album. The project clocks in at an immense hour and 15 minutes, spanning 19 tracks and a whole lot of riffs. The opening to the album, “Fanny Dog,” is indicative of Segall’s maximalist mindset with its wall of energetic resonance right out of the gate. The song displays it all, with a fuzzy guitar-driven intro backed by an entire horn section and rolling honkey-tonk keys. It soon becomes apparent that Segall has shifted his sound away from raw, clamorousness to a more controlled mania. Segall adopts this sonic growth seamlessly, allowing for his shrieking guitar leads that close off a number of his tracks to breathe with the other elements of the songs’ mixes instead of taking up the full sonic space. The essence of his resonant sound is still there, but it’s as if Segall went from recording in the cramped confines of a basement to the center of a reverberating auditorium.
While Segall’s glam-rock influences are discernable, he wraps them under the guise of his personal sound to create tracks that feel both nostalgic and fresh at once. The back-to-back songs “Every 1″s A Winner,” a Hot Chocolate cover, and “Despoiler of Cadaver” display unmistakable disco undertones and, later on in the album, “She” provides pummeling guitar riffs and high-flying vocals that could just as easily be found on an early Sabbath record. But despite the rock homages, the defining features remain Segall’s distinct vocals and guitar-work.
Such an extensive album is bound to have some low points, which arrive around the mid-way point, with songs like “Shoot You Up” and “You Say All The Nice Things” not really going anywhere in their runtime, but before reaching them, listeners will come across what are arguably two of Segall’s most well-written songs. The first of these is “My Lady’s On Fire” which, through employing delicate Marc Bolan-esque vocal melodies, shows Segall at his most pensive – and most memorable – as a songwriter. The saxophone-led outro gives an excellent air of whimsicality as it slowly fades away. Directly after comes the ardently written “Alta,” opening with a short-lived keyboard prelude to a gigantic chorus that passionately proclaims, “I would fight to save you / I would give my life.”
The most powerful point in “Freedom’s Goblin” however is reserved for the final track, “And Goodnight,” which closes out an already epic project with a magnificent 12-minute rock jam. Such an ending could sound a bit excessive, but the song, a self-cover of Segall’s 2012 song “Sleeper,” constantly evolves and regresses throughout, never losing its steam. “And, Goodnight” also lends itself to some jaw-dropping guitar licks from Segall in a live, of-the-moment fashion reminiscent of immortal jam-bands like Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead.
Taken as a whole, “Freedom’s Goblin” marks the sonic culmination of a decade of one man’s tireless will to rock – despite the changing tides of musical culture – and in effect, taps directly into the enduring vitality of the last century’s greatest musical icons in a way that makes rock’s ever-vanishing heydays feel distinctly alive.
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