I think it’s safe to say that Ty Segall is the king of garage rock at the moment, and has been for a while. After seven busy years, eight solo records, numerous side projects, and a knack for consistency, he’s more than earned the title by now. Emotional Mugger shows an understanding of his role in modern rock music, as he’s now decided to throw his listeners a curveball by following up the more accessible Manipulator with one of his heaviest, most abrasive releases yet. Over 38 minutes, Segall delivers 11 tracks of relentless garage punk madness. Songs like “California Hills” and especially “Diversion” (the latter probably being the heaviest track of the year so far) don’t hold back with Segall’s signature fuzzy guitar turned up to the max. Segall also makes sure to deliver quality songwriting to give a purpose to these songs other than the riffs. A perfect example of this is “Mandy Cream,” whose tight riff and dynamic drums are built around an incredibly catchy, if not a bit repetitive, vocal melody and closing out with a face-melting guitar solo that ends the song off wonderfully. I could really only point out a few times where the melody was weak enough to be buried under the noisy instrumentation. Even the bass gets its time to shine on “Squealer 2” with a wonderful groove that runs throughout the track to give the song its own distinctive taste. Overall, Emotional Mugger has more than a handful of tracks that will stick with you throughout the remaining 11 months of the year, and probably more.
Emotional Mugger is at its best when it sticks to a more traditional garage punk formula: roughly three-minutes songs densely packed with grit, energy, and pure emotion extracted from a simple instrumental palette of drums, bass, and guitar. It's when the album deviates from the blueprint that things get shaky. The most obvious departure from his usual sound is with “W.U.O.T.W.S.,” an experiment that goes nowhere. Instead of forming an intriguing musical experience or at least creating any interesting textures, it just sounds like he simply programmed two studio rehearsals into separate sound channels. There’s also the title track, whose shortcomings are a bit more subtle. Easily the longest cut on the album at five minutes, the song doesn’t justify its length and seems to get a bit stale by the three-minute mark with a riff that pales in comparison to others that inhabit the record. A time when this tinkering does work out is on “California Hills” whose slow build up in pace eventually climaxes at the end of the track with an insane guitar freakout and drum solo, resulting in one of the best songs of the record and the greatest moment overall.
The fact that almost every time Segall tries something different on Emotional Mugger, it doesn’t live up to his regular shtick (an immensely entertaining shtick, mind you) reveals the main issue with Emotional Mugger: a lack of creativity rooted in a sense of comfortability. Ty Segall is plagued with the same problem many a garage rock/punk artist has faced: creating a magnum opus. The Strokes have Is This It, The Stooges have two masterpieces, but no other garage rock albums have reached that point of mind-blowing classic status that I can think of. Ty Segall has yet to find his Fun House, and Emotional Mugger sadly isn’t that; but I have a feeling it’s not trying to be that. Instead, Emotional Mugger is Segall’s attempt to bring a much rougher, grimier sound to modern rock after gaining a much larger following with Manipulator. Not only is that a commendable effort, but one that results in another solid release by the king of modern garage rock.