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GØGGS - Pre Strike Sweep Music Album Reviews

On their second album, this quartet featuring Ty Segall and Ex-Cult’s Chris Shaw prod and pull at their militaristic punk with psychedelic tricks and brief detours.

Of the innumerable albums, backing-band permutations, and side projects that form the Ty Segall ecosystem, GØGGS are the most singular. Though Segall again teams with longtime bandmate Charles Moothart in the group, their fusion of skate-punk and space-rock on GØGGS’ self-titled 2016 debut marked a clear aesthetic detour from the continuum of British Invasion rock and proto-metal that connects most of Segall’s releases (and his work with Moothart in Fuzz). GØGGS, after all, is ultimately less a vehicle for Segall’s wandering whimsy than a platform for the hectoring, hardcore-schooled bark of Ex-Cult shouter Chris Shaw. He is the fearsome drill sergeant whipping Segall and Moothart’s fuzzy offensive into militaristic shape, a role he embraces with Sergeant Hartman-style zeal on their second record, Pre Strike Sweep.

As Segall’s own catalog has turned increasingly eclectic and elegant, GØGGS is less an extracurricular indulgence for him than a necessary outlet for aggressive impulses. Even when he’s not behind the microphone, he makes his presence clear with tinfoil-chewing guitar spasms, the quality that best distinguishes GØGGS from Ex-Cult’s equally pulverizing punk. Opener “Killing Time” teases at radical reinvention with a brittle acoustic intro, but the band batters it into a warped piece of psych-metal within a minute. Bassist Michael Anderson then introduces a Black Flag rumble, setting the unrelentingly caustic tone of the next half hour.

GØGGS don’t exactly redraft their battle plan on Pre Strike Sweep, but they at least consider new ways to work within it. Like cats trapped in a bag, they poke, prod, and stretch without compromising established parameters. On the title track, Shaw plays shout-and-response with a convulsive riff, but halfway through, the song comes to a halt, only for Segall to revive it with crossfading noise swirls and snake-charmer guitar squiggles. The Paranoid-powered “Funeral Relief” shows just how much detail they can pack into two minutes, offsetting a raised-fist chorus with acoustic-propelled verses and dramatic arpeggios. Even when they adopt the cheeky sneer and sing-along sloganeering of late-1970s British street-punk on “CTA,” arrhythmic shocks of noise swoop in, throwing the song off balance.

While a sense of mischief lurks beneath the menace on Pre Strike Sweep, Shaw’s voice remains a proudly inflexible instrument, like the concrete walls of a burning skyscraper. Shaw is at once GØGGS’ most prominent feature and their most elusive—a loud, agitated, but obfuscating mouthpiece who sounds like he’s screaming down the empty hallway that leads to the practice space. Often, the only lyrics you’ll be able to make out are the song titles, though sometimes you don’t need much more. Amid the marauding metallic punk of “Vanity,” he spits out “Vanity/Your vanity” with enough disgust to make you feel like you've been caught striking a Blue Steel pose for a selfie.

There are times here where GØGGS can’t quite reconcile their hardcore DNA with their latent experimental impulses. The moody “Ruptured Line” feels less like a song than an excerpt from an extended avant-punk jam, and its improvised chaos leaves the normally authoritative Shaw sounding unmoored. But there’s equal evidence that GØGGS are becoming more adept at crafting hard-hitting songs that offer more than cathartic aggression for its own sake. The finale, “Morning Reaper,” sounds like vintage power-pop being torn apart inside a circle pit before GØGGS lock into some hard-rock riffage. Even in this marginally more melodic context, it’s still hard to decipher what exactly Shaw is railing against. But when most every aspect of life seems to be a source of chronic anxiety and rage, does it really matter?

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