January 22nd, 2016 | Album reviews

Emotional Mugger
Drag City

Since no one has closely addressed it yet, what is an Emotional Mugger? I’ll say: yes, it is the internet or an internetted society, as some have guessed, but specifically the way the online world barfs up a kitty photo or a war atrocity or some hatebait article that forces your lizard brain to react on contact—LOL WTF OMG!?—and that sensation is you getting emotionally mugged, and/or having your already depleted humanity sucked out of you by a machine that gets pennies per provocation. (I also think about that Richard Hell interview where they talk about how every time you laugh, an emotion dies … perhaps that was more Emotional Mail Tampering, though?) My evidence? The line where Ty possibly sings “I will give you pleasure … thru EMAIL?!” (but I’m sadly/probably mishearing) as a riff drags itself across hot pavement, and the general sense of desperation/exhaustion/alienation that animates this awesome mindblown dystopian 80s cyborg-zombie of an album. Emotional Mugger is a deliberately ugly record for sure—the production is so claustrophobic as to be suffocating, practically a goopy second skin that wraps around you­—and every instrument is distorted to the point of torture; you can hear every internal component in the guitars pleading for mercy. What we end up with is basically Devo—Hardcore Devo, pre-major label Devo making scary-funny songs on homemade instruments without respect for limits or taste—in collision with The Idiot. Those are compatible sounds: outsider, avant, sealed off from the outside world and submerged in their own vision, and that’s Emotional Mugger, too. It even starts with a door slamming—but are they locking Ty out or locking Ty in? Anyway, despite complaints from reviewers about how abrasive this is—hi, have you met Ty Segall?—he’s still got hits. The Equals cover (“Diversion”) deletes just about every line except the parts about being back from jail and ends up like a punishing Chrome outtake and “Candy Sam” or “Mandy Cream” are irresistible, especially “Sam”: “Pick me up / I am done / Candy’s gone / no more fun!” If there’s a connector to Manipulator, that’s it—if Manipulator was the moment when Ty found his always-meant-to-be sound, then Mugger is Ty testing how far that sound bends before it snaps. These are pop songs in diagram, so you can see all the moving parts and the manual annotation, and they’re still hooky and catchy, but the hooks are extra sharp and they hurt more when they catch you. Then comes closer “Magazine,” the final decay: “You don’t need a reason / it’s all in the magazine,” sings Ty. Very heavy—a magazine is part of a gun, isn’t it? See, everyone thought this album was about getting mugged—but by the end, you’ll find it’s about getting emotional.

—Chris Ziegler