Rumpus Sound Takes: California Bubble Pop


Ty Segall
Goodbye Bread
(Drag City)

Orange County native Ty Segall weaves garage, surf, glam, and psychedelic rock into a collage that plays as self-consciously with its sources as any post-1960s folk music. Where folkies value authenticity, Segall’s post-indie rock references a good record collection, incorporating a wide array of influences into an artful homage that adds up to more and less than the sum of its parts. Goodbye Bread layers Segall’s overdriven guitar and muddled vocals, quoting popular and underground music from the last 40 years in order to interrogate the vacuity and appeal of suburban California culture.

Throughout the album, Segall’s voice and guitar establish a distinct sonic identity, one with a strong debt to lo-fi guitar bands from the 1990s (who in turn owed their sound to garage and glam bands from the 1970s). The title track exemplifies the artful pop Segall seems to be half borrowing, half inventing: “’Cause who plays the games we all play? / Won’t you play me today? / And who sings the songs when we’re gone? / Won’t you sing along?” Delivered in an amateurish falsetto over bright, distorted guitar, the offhand lyrics make good on pop’s promise of pleasant diversion, while the music’s jagged edges suggest the dark side of those same pop dreams.

The most obvious songs on the record, “California Commercial” and “Comfortable Home (A True Story)” amount to pro forma shots at the Californian incarnation of the American Dream. As such, they’re too reminiscent of early ’80s punk to be convincing. Because we’ve heard the sentiment before, it seems feigned. Furthermore, Segall and his record collection are clearly products of that same comfortable home of which he sings. Indie subculture remains profoundly middle-class, and when Segall doesn’t acknowledge the contradiction between the culture that produced him and the pose he’s striking, his songs verge on mere pastiche.

Nevertheless, Goodbye Bread offers more than a convincing replica of its sources, and when Segall digs into the way both suburban California culture and indie subculture value style over substance, he achieves minor conceptual coups. Though the title track’s cool braggadocio is older than the blues, Segall pulls it off like he invented it yesterday, and he lets a sinister undertone seep through the pop cliché on “You Make the Sun Fry.” If the shots at suburban California ring hollow, “Fine” (“You / you are so fine / In my / mind / Oh, you don’t know / just how fine you are”) does more to interrogate that culture’s allure—and its malaise—than any of Segall’s more direct assaults.

Tom Andes has published fiction in Witness, Natural Bridge, News from the Republic of Letters, the Akashic Books Mondays Are Murder Flash Fiction Blog, Best American Mystery Stories 2012, and elsewhere. He lives in New Orleans and can be found here: @thomaseandes. More from this author →