There’s something to be said for the ability to write a really great guitar riff. It’s become something of a lost art in recent years, with digital manipulation and studio polish taking the bite out of many guitar-based bands. Of course, you’ve got your vetted ax slingers like Jack White and Josh Homme (and a smattering of authentic lo-fi garage rockers – I’m looking at you Burger Records), but it’s getting harder and harder to name specific guitarists who bend those strings to their own purpose and aren’t simply rehashing the same progressions that we’ve all heard a thousand times before. We did get a welcome infusion of riff-addled blood when prolific rocker Ty Segall rose to indie prominence some years ago. His many albums under various guises and monikers have veered from traditional garage-pop melodicism to blistering, fret-scorched Nuggets homage and back again without much notice, so it’s difficult to gauge how he’ll approach each release.
But with his latest album – recorded under his new Fuzz moniker – Segall takes a comfortable seat behind the drum kit and is joined by guitarist Charles Moothart (who provided the searing riffs on Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse) and bassist Roland Cosio. This power trio pumps out super-charged anthems which harkens back to the early ‘90s when all you needed to be successful was a collection of fuzz pedals and the ability to play really loud. That’s not to say that Fuzz neglects any of the other aspects we’ve come to associate with Segall’s past projects, but the pedals are on full display and the amps are turned up to 11 – and I really don’t hear anyone complaining.
There’s also a sense that the band wanted to distance themselves from any previous iteration, as they released their first single without an explanation of the band makeup. It was simply a new song by a band called Fuzz, and you quickly got the feeling that they wanted the focus to rest solely on the aesthetic and less on their individual names. But the cat was soon out of the bag and Segall, Moothart, and Cosio were quickly back in the spotlight. Thankfully, Fuzz more than justifies their position there.
From the opening guitar salvo on “Earthen Gates” to the closing distortion-polished tones of “One,” the album relies on its muscle and the band’s sense of restless rhythm to deliver a sprawling collection of riff-based tracks that sit quite comfortably next to Slaughterhouse as one of the most memorable and unabashedly raucous rock records in recent years. It’s difficult to discuss the songs on Fuzz, especially “What’s In My Head” and “Preacher,” without thinking that the band are simply continuing the storied lineage of hard rock juggernauts like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer – complete with those bands’ often labyrinthine guitar solos and thudding percussive menace. And Segall is a great drummer, whose fills and pounding beats more than stand up to Moothart’s colossal fretwork. It would be a mistake though to assume that Cosio is simply there to provide a guideline for Segall and Moothart to work from – his work is generally far more subtle (though not always) and helps to fashion Fuzz as more than just a Segall-led garage rock group. They’re a band in every sense of the word. Without the interplay between each person, this album simply wouldn’t work.
This band dynamic comes into sharp contrast on one the record’s best tracks, the intricate and thunderous “Loose Sutures.” Moothart tosses off streaks of greased riffage while Segall plays the part of runaway train to Cosio’s engineer. The song is long, elaborate, and a particularly good showcase for the band a whole and as individuals. The length gives them the ability to let each guitar solo unfurl naturally, without exception, and each fill and throbbing bassline is cast out so simply and effortlessly that this song could have just as easily been the result of years experience playing together (which, come to think of it, it sorta is).
But Fuzz – both the band and album – are smart enough to know that you can’t throw everything you’ve got against the studio walls for too long before a sense of musical fatigue sets in. Listeners need variation and a sense that a band can do more than just one thing really well. And while Fuzz could do with a bit more diversity, it’s hard to criticize a record which so completely adopts the sounds of their inspirations and musical forebears. Would I want Moothart to sing a bit more on the record, as he does on proto-metal churner “Raise”? Should Segall come out from behind the drums occasionally and show us a bit of his insular guitar work? Sure, and I have to think that we’ll get our wishes granted on subsequent records. Scoff at them for being a bit too obvious with their name but Fuzz and Fuzz deliver the garage rock roar we’ve come to expect from Segall and Co. And if you’re still not convinced, just wait a few months — I’m sure he’ll have another record ready by then.