Ty Segall's 'Three Bells' Rings with Clarity

BY Bruno CoulombePublished Jan 25, 2024


One of our most prolific and seemingly tireless songwriters, Ty Segall has never shied away from trying something new. On his latest album Three Bells, the Laguna Beach, California musician draws on some of his favourite, lasting influences — psych rock, folk, heavy metal — and twists them to produce one of his most conceptual and narratively clarified records.

Three Bells follows 2022’s Hello, Hi, which was referred to as a back-to-basics effort because of its intimate feel and focus on acoustic riffs. With its 15-song track list, Three Bells immediately suggests a denser approach, not just in scope and length but in structure too. Many of the tracks here form multi-part journeys where contrasting ideas are juxtaposed, as on brilliant opener “The Bell” or the trippy “Void,” with its almost seven-minute running time. Some of the transitions feel carefully worked-out while others have a somewhat random quality to them, serving as a reminder that Segall has always valued abandon and spontaneity in his music even when the complex structures and unconventional harmonies suggest a more cerebral approach.

Because it’s a double album, Three Bells harkens back to 2014’s Manipulator and 2018’s Freedom’s Goblin, on which Segall used the extended format to push his sound in multiple directions at once. But the approach feels a little tighter here, with cohesive arrangements that give the sprawl a sense of unity. Most of the songs use the acoustic guitar as their basic harmonic component supplemented by heavily distorted guitars and solo licks that echo the glam rock of T. Rex, as on the powerful but messy “Move” and early single “Eggman.”

In his press notes, Segall has loosely described Three Bells as a quest for personal expression, “parabolically addressing malaise with compassion.” Perhaps the name was inspired by the 1959 country hit of the same name by the Browns, itself an adaptation of a 1940s French song which tells the story of a whole town gathering to pray for a young man at various stages of his life — his birth, his marriage, and his death. It certainly feels apiece with the cyclic form of storytelling on Three Bells.

The album’s personal quality is also reflected in how it was conceived, with Segall first writing the songs on guitar and drums before long-time collaborators like bassist Emmett Kelly were brought in as the music became increasingly complex. But the key contributor is Denée Segall, Segall’s partner and bandmate in side project the C.I.A., who collaborated on five of the songs while also giving her name to the lovely homage “Denée.” The couple’s complicity is fascinating, so much so that it’s almost impossible to tell on which of the tracks they worked together.

Although Three Bells doesn’t quite reach the mastery of Freedom’s Goblin in terms of catchy hooks and sonic adventure, it makes up for it with brilliant songwriting and attention to detail. This is a carefully organized collection of songs, each track serving a greater purpose rather than indulging in the constant flip-flopping of energy that’s become one of Segall’s trademarks.

The music is as diverse as ever — from psych folk to hard rock to prog-jazz to post-punk to stoner metal ― but Segall’s songwriting feels streamlined and clear-eyed, a welcome respite from the storm that surrounds it. 

(Drag City)

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