There’s something demented about the infant figure on the cover of Ty Segall’s Emotional Mugger that, understandably, strikes discomfort within the hearts of those who stare into its pitch black eyes. The doll becomes the thing of nightmares, while also depicting the very thing the record’s title aspires to: this cruel head mugs your emotions. It does it as easily as lines of “Stealing candy from a baby” that the Wet Bandits from Home Alone get fed each time they manage to actually rob houses. Coincidentally enough, candy, like Emotional Mugger touts, is the thing that turns the world around.
California’s Ty Segall could really not care less about creating something sparkly clean; that does not mean that organization is an aspect left alone. To the Garage Rock artist, the human condition becomes knowing where to find a leather coat in a house that could appear in an episode of Hoarders. He and his current backing group The Muggers, are keen on picking what they require in seconds where others would take minutes retrieving the coat from the stack. As such, the musicians compose their works in ways that would make the Butthole Surfers proud. The infantile doll on the cover is the least of your worries; the wild ride Emotional Mugger sets you on will be major.
Sex and prostitution become one of the cogs in the machine that is Ty Segall’s strange Emotional Mugger. The wonky grooves of “Squealer” are fitting for an 8-bit video game baddy verging on a psychedelic approach akin to Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, while also conveying the atmosphere of a hot, filth-stained motel through the album’s encompassing dirty distortion. But the complexities of the record become apparent with “Breakfast Edge,” which posits our protagonist as one dominated by his “queen.” Sex makes way for candid kinks, which turn inverse in “Squealer Two,” with the role of dominator becoming attributed to our main lad. English professors would find the turmoil and conflicting sides to such a character to be appealing and lecture-ready. The element of personality explored in Emotional Mugger show a dimension not necessary, yet very welcome to its art.
There are two vocal timbres leading the album that highlight its sly shyness: a dark Marilyn Manson-like tone that approaches with a throaty disposition and a nasally one that feels castrated, surrendered, like it’s a dominated minion. On one hand, these vocals add to the multifaceted life of a man using sex as a way to deal with his problems, winding up prostitutes while avoiding a supposed wife (“Diversion”). “Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess” allows these tones to create an almost trusting nature when paired with the dentist drill distortion of strings, making the protagonist feel like they’re conniving for “candy,” the main causal rotator. Money and sex can mutually be candy, yet they become the objects of enterprise that can suck one’s life dry–they’re the emotional muggers.
Talks of tempo switches, perfect bends in riffs, ubiquitous guitar work, and weirdly appropriate mild drumming, lay on the feeling of a deviant, yet appropriate hip gyrating the album causes. Whether in tune with Segall’s words or not, listeners can find each breadth of instrumentation to be placed so on the verge of the background that it’s by Segall’s side. From “Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess” to the odour-filled downtown punk strings of “Mandy Cream” to the clean forward momentum of “Candy Sam,” the record has expertise on multiple levels. Lyrically, instrumentally, and formally this album shines as something that has its knife in its pockets and a baby mask in its backpack.
Emotional Mugger ironically leaves you something by the end of it, not actually robbing its audience. Its promise of emotionally mugging you is kept in its idea, making each sexual encounter being tainted when looking at the room’s ill-placed doll. It ultimately leaves you with a piece of conniving darkness, a record to listen to when feeling sinister. You can one-up anyone who steals candy from babies by taking someone’s emotions.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.