It’s often advised that when dabbling with LSD you should avoid gazing into the mirror at yourself at all costs, as not to uncover hidden truths or fears about oneself. Whether it’s a gateway to the soul or not, it’s sage wisdom that Ty Segall has purposefully shunned on Three Bells.
On his first album in nearly two years, the ever-prolific experimental garage-rocker has acid-tripped face-first into his reflection, pondering life’s meaning and his own life’s work by exploring every possible facet of his musical arsenal.
Centred around the concept of “three bells” – which is likely inspired by Jean Villard’s 1959 French language song ‘Les Trois Cloches’, a song which stories someone’s life, marriage, and eventual death with bells ringing throughout each event – it’s the most conceptual Segall’s songwriting has perhaps ever been. Delving into the rabbit hole of his own consciousness and existence, the album’s expansive theme is equalled by the sonic smorgasbord throughout.
This psychedelic-come-philosophic concept chimes from the off. “Your destination is where you have been,” Ty sings on the woozily hypnotic opener ‘The Bell’, accepting the inevitability of one’s fate, the circle of life. The intoxicating tone is amped-up with ‘Void’, one of Segall’s proggiest compositions to date, in which brain-scrambling distortion and waltzing acoustic guitars cascade towards a dizzying crescendo. “You see clearer through a mirror,” he sings on the six-minute-plus journey, unflinchingly staring right back at himself. ‘Reflections’ quite literally preoccupies itself with self-reflection.
Releasing a total of fifteen albums as a solo artist – let alone the series of collaborative ventures or side projects in between – Ty has been impressively and unquenchably prolific throughout the past sixteen years. If 2022’s half-baked Hello Hi might’ve signalled that his seemingly endless well of curiosity was drying up, Three Bells could well signify a cornerstone of his future musicianship.
Though he calls upon trusted peers from his Freedom Band to flesh out ideas – as well his beloved dachshund Herman who’s the subject of ‘My Best Friend’ – five of the album’s tracks were co-written by Ty’s wife and co-conspirator, Denée. It’s anything but a Spinal Tap-esque predicament that Segall finds himself in, however.
Working together on 2018 album The C.I.A. and 2023’s Surgery Channel as the band The C.I.A., Denée’s co-penned songs seem to nudge Ty towards the fringes of other genres, an encouragement that Ty relishes. The album’s eerie second single ‘Eggman’ is an evident LSD-dripping nod to The Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’; ‘I Hear’ and ‘Hi Dee Dee’ channel the proto-metal groove of San Franciscan legends Blue Cheer; George Clinton would no doubt adore the wobbly-funk of ‘Move’. Denee herself gets name-dropped in the Rhodes-indebted, dimly lit jazz shuffle of ‘Denée’.
Three Bells consistent shape-shifting is indebted to its absorbing instrumentation. Despite the serious lyrical ideas of change, acceptance, and finality, putting Ty’s maximalist musical approach into practice throughout recording must’ve been a riot. Jagged psych-folk strumming, head-inducing rhythms, and of course, his combustible trademark guitar solos all feature heavily. Though, the album’s most accessible moment, however, is ‘My Room’ – signature Segall at his most sumptuous, it’s one of Ty’s more compelling and complete songs of recent years.
For an artist that has unrelentingly shredded away at the narrow perceptions of garage rock from album to album, Three Bells will dispel any doubts that Segall is anywhere near to running out of steam. Ty’s broke on through to the other side, and this strange new chapter is his best in a decade.