TY SEGALL’s new self-titled album on Drag City keeps us guessing while splashing our collective face with no shortage of astringent tunes of all colors.

At his best, Ty Segall is a master songwriter trapped in the body of a punk — although the limitations of his garage-inflected rock actually keep him grounded and focused rather than restricted. The California bandleader’s prolific output over the past decade has grown increasingly ambitious in its own humble and rough-hewn way; at the same time, he refuses to set aside the gnarled riffs, spilled booze and busted knuckles of his most blistering work. That hasn’t changed on his latest album (his second, after one in 2008, to bear the name Ty Segall). What’s different is an even more ardent attempt at confining chaos and squeezing catchy, catastrophically massive pop gems out of it.


“Break A Guitar” busts the album wide open right at the outset, as it harnesses a thunderous glam-rock stomp that barely conceals huge hooks and Segall’s supple, helium-infused melodies. “Take my guitar / I’ll be at the bar,” he sings at the end, adding a Replacements-esque twist to an otherwise swaggering demonstration of rock ‘n’ roll overconfidence. The distortion grows even more corrosive in “The Only One,” whose dueling guitar leads (between Segall and his longtime second guitarist Emmett Kelly) erupt gloriously into a fugue of frenzied abandon. “Thank You Mr. K” ups the ante even further, succumbing to a psychedelic-meets-hardcore attack that chugs along at the breakneck speed of a bad, bleak trip.

But Ty Segall does more than throttle and thrash. “Talkin’,” a pointed parable about self-absorption, is wrapped in softly strummed acoustic guitars. “Orange Color Queen” picks up on the same vibe, but with a more reflective bent; like a daydream on a rowboat in the middle of a slow-moving river, the song meanders through a vivid landscape of heartache while Segall does his best impression of a warbling angel. Mikal Cronin, the group’s bassist (and an excellent bandleader in his own right), joins Segall on vocals in “Take Care (To Comb Your Hair),” another acoustic song whose plaintive, plucky tendencies shift deliriously from folky tenderness to needling, fuzzed-out riffage by song’s end.

The album’s most ambitious moments, though, appear in “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned).” At 10-plus minutes, it’s a break from Segall’s standard three-and-a-half-minute hand grenades; heroically, it doesn’t waste a second in its pursuit of pop-history synthesis, starting out as a paint-peeling ball of snarling menace before dissolving into a wonderfully sparse, spacious jam. “Papers” may not be as ambitious, lengthwise, but it stretches Segall’s canvas in a different way. Keyboardist Ben Boye’s piano is given a more prominent spot in the complex arrangement, and the entire song reflects a Beatles-like sense of sophistication, complete with cryptic lyrics and elusive melancholia. Segall’s role models are still as plain as day — Marc Bolan, Ray Davies and Syd Barrett chief among them — but on Ty Segall, he’s taken yet another strong step toward turning retroactive garage rock into high art.

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    Robert Cray has been bridging the lines between blues, soul and R&B for the past four decades, with five Grammy wins and over 20 acclaimed albums. For his latest project, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, the Blues Hall of Famer traveled to Memphis with his friend, renowned Grammy Award winning producer Steve Jordan, to make a classic soul album with Hi Rhythm, the band that helped create that sound. Set inside an old theatre, the funky Royal Studios looks much as it did when Al Green was cutting those classics for Hi Records. Guitarist Teenie Hodges has passed away, but his brothers Rev. Charles Hodges (organ and piano) and Leroy "Flick" Hodges (bass), along with cousin Archie "Hubbie" Turner (keyboards), were still there.
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    Less obviously haunted by the influence of George Clinton than its predecessor, Damn still sounds rooted in early-70s soul. There are nods towards the luscious, harmony-laden mellowness of the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites (opener Blood even features a warped version of the kind of spoken-word monologue found on the latter’s single Have You Seen Her?), to the stentorian bellow that opens Curtis Mayfield’s If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go and to the dense sound of psychedelic soul – by way of Outkast – on Pride. If it seems a more straightforward listen than To Pimp a Butterfly, there’s a cheering sense that this doesn’t equate to a lessening of musical ambition. There’s none of that album’s wilfully jarring quality – its sudden, anxious musical lurches and abrupt, short-circuiting leaps between genres – but the tracks on Damn still feel episodic and expansive: XXX alone goes from massed harmony vocals to a downbeat rap over glitching, stuttering samples, to a thrilling moment where it explodes in a mass of sirens, screeching tyres and heaving basslines, to a dramatic drop in tempo and an understated guest vocal from Bono in the space of four minutes. Rather than angsty disruptions, there’s a more subtle sense of disquiet here. The heavy-lidded drift of Yah would sound relaxed were it not for the presence of two grating bass notes that fit with the lyrics’ prickly unease, where images of contented family life rub up against “theories and suspicions”. Meanwhile, on the brilliant Pride, troubled lyrical shifts from modesty and confusion to self-belief – “I can’t fake humble because your ass is insecure” – are mirrored by a rap electronically treated so that its pitch gradually speeds up and slows down amid the woozy atmospherics and falsetto vocals. Elsewhere, there’s brilliant, dexterous storytelling on Duckworth – the saga of how Lamar’s father narrowly avoided being murdered by a criminal called Anthony, complete with an eye-popping, no-spoilers twist – and another demonstration of Lamar’s nonpareil ability to write songs about the pressures of wealth and success that somehow manage to elicit the listener’s sympathy rather than a roll of the eyes.