Ty Segall’s Sleeper comes on the heels of a tumultuous year for the lo-fi musician that ended with the death of his father and estrangement from his mother. Matters of life and death have filtered through pop music since its rise to prominence, leading to some extraordinary moments of grace and humility. Those moments are here, but not quite as abundant as one would expect considering the album’s origins. Sleeper is a dreamy record, filled to the brim with a psych-pop style that sees Segall ditching his electric guitar for an acoustic record riddled with a sloppiness that has made him so endearing. But, because of the album’s acoustic origins, that lo-fi DYI mentality makes the record feel like a collection of demos with some good ideas, but it could use a few more takes before being set to wax.
Things starts out promisingly with “Sleeper”, a dreamlike tune with a lovely violin backing that serves as a thesis of sort for the rest of the record. Gone are the screeching guitars and punk sensibility of Segall’s earlier work – this is an album that is truly going all-in with its folk aesthetic. The next tune, “The Keepers” blatantly cribs from “Nights of White Satin”, with Segall rhyming “mirror” with “see you” and “be you” (though, in his defense, it’s more like “mirrah” and “see yah” and “be yah”), but it’s a song that has weight and a gradual escalation that lends a sense of drama to the record.
“Crazy” is where things start to go amiss. It’s a slight song with an annoying chorus (“she’s craa-a-azay!”), that trades in gravitas for a jangly throwback that feels like a faux Dylanesque turn on acid. Experimentation is fine, as is pushing the limits to a sound, but there’s a point where it all comes across as a lark. Tunes like “The Man Man” and “She Don’t Care” are a great foundation for a flower-pop folk song, but as they sit on the album, the songs sound like a really nice demo – a gem of an idea that needs a quick nip and a tuck before being ready for the public.
Segall has made his name for his decidedly low-tech approach, churning out upwards to three albums a year. For the most part, that work ethic has done him wonders, with each record having its own sensibility along with a line of progression showing Segall’s improving technical skills despite the limitations of the production setting. Sleeper is the first record where his reach exceeds his grasp, which is unfortunate considering the events behind the album are ripe for rumination and reflection.
For the most part, as Sleeper languishes along, with songs like “Sweet C.C.” and “Queen Lullaby” managing to hit that maudlin feel, but in a manner missing the goods needed to make this an album to return to. That said, the final song, “The West” is gorgeous; a fully formed country shuffle that may be one of the best songs of Segall’s career. It’s beauty and haunting lyricism only highlights the missed opportunities on Sleeper – an album that at this point is more of a curiosity than the norm in Segall’s expanding body of work.