Ty Segall and White Fence's Tim Presley are masters of garage-rock's indirection game; their collaborative album, Hair, is an absorbing, bleary maze of detours and red herrings. To hear them steer their demented little dune buggy through rock history is not unlike partaking in the American history lessons that Abe Simpson pieced together "mostly through sugar packets": All the familiar players are here, but they're acting funny.
The songs they write together -- Segall on drums and rhythm guitar, Presley on bass and lead-- are not anthems. They are puzzles built from rock-music parts, and you don't pump your fist to a puzzle. But they are peculiarly absorbing, and they only grow more so with repeated listening. In every song, there's a jump, an oomph, a missing-reel moment, in which a sudden left turn devours a song whole or a stray thread bumps everything off the designed course. The opener, "Time", eases its way into a sweetly evocative folk-rock strum, pitched so accurately you get instantly lost trying to track it: something from George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, maybe? But then, in its last minute, the song drops into a forceful blurt of fuzz guitars so abruptly that its tendons nearly snap. It's a bracing reminder that you are not, in fact, listening to George Harrison.
Segall and Presley are both tinkerers like this, the sort of people who seemingly enjoy pulling support beams out of their songs to see how well they hop along without them. Songs start somewhere rote and then slowly topple over before they end. "Easy Ryder" begins in a place so familiar that your ears dilate: a straight-ahead Ventures surf lick, a lazy drum shuffle, and lyrics intoning the title. But when the halfway-point guitar solo pop ups, on cue, it noodles away past its designated end, pecking determinedly away at the song until the relationship between the two begins to resemble this dynamic. "Scissor People" starts with a Yardbirds-style riff, but when it breaks down to a one-chord vamp, it keeps breaking down into smaller and blurrier parts, interrupting itself until it just bangs its head against a corner repeatedly. It's a quizzical chaos, a cocktail of adrenaline and neurosis.
Some of this schizophrenia stems from Segall and Presley's differing temperaments. As White Fence, Presley tends to be sleepier and more abstracted; Segall's music is wilder and unconstrained. Their union feels intriguingly unstable: You can almost pinpoint the moment on the narcotized psych-folk ballad "The Black Glove/Rag" where Segall grows restless with the song's tempo and wrests control of it, steering it into a field of tires. They are interesting enough together that the stuff that sounds like it took 20 total minutes to cook up and record (the hiccuping rockabilly of "Crybaby") glows with their singular weirdness. At eight songs and under half an hour, Hair is short, but full of enough odd little fillips-- the creepy whispers that open "The Black Glove/Rag", the stumbling, quasi-solemn "1-2-3-4" countdown that opens "Time"-- that it feels like a world. Given the incestuous, collaborative nature of the San Francisco psych-rock playground, it's likely that these two will make more music together. I hope they never figure each other out completely.