If you shut your eyes at the beginning of Sleeper, you might doze and wake up with no memory of the record, it existing only as time passing. That’s not because it’s a substance-less album or because it doesn’t have its (more subtle than usual) attention-grabbing, gut-punching moments, but instead because it feels like you’ve lived with it for a long time already — and because it’s both a milestone in Ty Segall’s prolific career and a complete blip.
A self-described “moment in time” record, Sleeper has a more unified theme than any of Segall’s albums to date – death, manipulation, equal parts anger and sadness. This shit is moody. A far cry from Segall’s typical thrash-around, funloving tunes – if still styled light. As Ty told NPR, Sleeper happened right after his adoptive father passed away, and right around the time he stopped talking to his mom, who he said did everything wrong after his father passed. He also said that this is the only record he’s ever put out that includes all the songs he wrote for it – none were left on the cutting room floor, and he couldn’t have written any more.
In that burst, Ty (who you can tell has been spending some quality time with Tim Presley) dusted off Lennon’s acoustic album, added some down South slide guitars and a few freak-music quirks, and created an elegant, simple and straightforward collection of acoustic tracks. The songs bounce from the unsettled, freak-folk accusations of “Crazy” to the Velvet Underground-esque “Queen Lullabye” to the almost cinematic violin sound of “She Don’t Care” – showing that Segall knows his acoustic guitar as intimately as his distortion pedal. While simple and heartfelt, this is not a bare-bones album. Almost every track builds layers of sounds so softly it’s almost imperceptible, creating lush tracks that speak straight to the gut with the same kind of seemingly effortless yet structured sound as Segall’s more plugged-in pieces.
If you’re missing the Ty you used to know, “The Man Man” features one of the only electric rips on the whole album, sucker-punching in towards the end with one of Segall’s signature beat-drop-and-whoops. Similarly, “Come Outside” puts the melody in front of the words, even if this time it’s hand percussion that steers the song.
“Crazy,” the only track that can truly be called stripped-down, speaks intimately to Ty’s sister, digging at his mom, but it also reaches out to us, his other listeners, with just as much directness and tenderness. “Give your heart a brand new start” but “don’t forget where you come from,” he offers as comfort. Recorded all in one take (a first for Segall), the song is the definition of release, but even though it draws closely from Ty’s personal experience, it’s selfless and open.
When Goodbye Bread dropped two years ago, it was received as Segall’s first “songwriter” album – probably just because the number of unrepeated words increased and you could actually hear him calling above the fuzz. It still lived in Ty’s usual fuzzbanging world, even if it hit its elbows against the side of his style and expressed some growing-pain frustration. But Sleeper is the true realization of Ty’s singer- songwriter skills. “The older you get, the less afraid you are to speak your mind,” he’s said of Sleeper “And the more in touch you are with what you’re feeling.” Sleeper is Segall as a songwriter not just for the surface-level reasons like the all-acoustic output or the more hard-hitting lyrics, but because this record is completely seamless and sincere. It’s vulnerable.
When Sleeper closes with porch-bopping “The West” – the kind of song that makes you strangely picture Ty sitting in a rocking chair and stomping his feet – and Segall sings, “Where do I go home?”, contemplating two parental and coastal extremes, you can almost feel your heart tug out of your chest with his, pulled in all directions, but primarily pulling forward. Ty is both left alone and set free. Sleeper is a release, a jog through a certain state of mind, that might have little impact on what comes next from Ty. But even if this is just an encapsulated moment in time, it’s a beautiful, intense, and pure moment.