Tuesday

White Fence: a profile & some considerations on 'For the Recently Found Innocent' (released July 2014)

The album cover & self-portrait for, 'For the Recently Found Innocent'

White Fence is a band that I have followed quite closely since their incarnation as a recording entity some four years ago. Their album release of this year was entitled For the Recently Found Innocent and was duly anticipated - speaking for oneself evidently. Having listened to the record extensively, I would now like to discuss my thoughts on the album over the course of this article. Initially however, I want to write a brief section outlining who the band is.


Darker My Love Performing 'Backseat'
from 'Alive As You Are'

White Fence is essentially just one person. The name of this person is Tim Presley. An American chap, based in L.A but originally from San Francisco, Tim seems to be, or has been involved with a number of bands and musicians for roughly the last decade [for more on this]. This trend of musical ‘types’ being connected and working together on various projects, which Presley seems to be somewhat of an archetype for, is prevalent in the L.A/San Francisco ‘music scene’ - or the ‘scene’ catering for the sorts of sounds made by Presley et al. Of his past work, the most notable was his time spent in Darker My Love, a band which first made me aware of his music (even though he did also spend a short time in Mark E. Smith’s band The Fall - but who hasn’t eh? This feels very much like a separate matter however, so one will not get bogged down in this here.) Their last album to date was the much-underappreciated Alive as You Are (2010), a record that was definitely their strongest and one worth listening to if you haven’t already. Being one of the two principle songwriters whilst in DML and a part of what certainly became a somewhat bigger, more label sponsored act; he has since struck out alone as White Fence and with it, this appears to have brought a far greater creative freedom. Like most recording artists, Presley is more than a little bit indebted to the pop music of earlier decades and especially psychedelia. He does however put a distinct modern twist on older sounds. It is as though he has past 60’s garage rock sensibilities through a certain contemporary psychedelic canon, picking up a variety of influences along the way – everything from punk to the English music hall. Although beginning to emerge on Alive as You Are, his influences notably have many British leanings. One can hear resonances of Kevin Ayers and Syd Barrett particularly of recent tracks. Then, as in this moment, Presley isn’t a musician desperately trying to devise an entirely new musical experience or be a vastly innovative sounding musician. Nevertheless, since the end of DML and up until For the Recently Found Innocent, due to experimentations in writing, structure and musical production, there have been a number of varyingly interesting moments on his 5 other previous White Fence records. The artistic freedom evident on these albums come through a sort of ‘do it yourself’ audio aesthetic and it is tantamount to this individual’s willingness to take what he knows/likes, digest and then regurgitate it in a variety of different ways - some of which understandably work better than others, but the works as a whole only appear to have benefitted from these often captivating attempts. The creative potential of home or self-recording, when executed properly is clear and very few in recent years, have shown this better than Presley. If one has a purpose and can work towards their own creative vision then now, with available means/technology to do so, why would they employ a producer to confuse the whole process? Professional studios have their uses no question. But there are now other ways of going about the recording process and much of the most interesting music today, seems to be evolving from this and other similar methods.

Tim Presley or White Fence or both, playing live

Tim Presley with (from left to right) Jared, Rob & Will 
from DML

In relative terms, Presley could be described, in the working sense at least, as being prolific. Having written, produced and released the best part of 6 long playing albums in less than 5 years, is by modern day standards very productive. Clearly this would have been seen as being ‘par for the course’ up until the late 80’s/90’s, but since then most bands and popular recording musician’s general output has slowed down significantly. The steady output of White Fence however, coupled with the ever changing line-up (excluding Presley clearly) - in terms of the band used for preforming live, as recording has mainly been Presley himself with some noted additions when required - has made it necessary for Presley to select songs which in many respects cater for the personnel he will be utilising during these processes. He states:  I will say I did choose songs that I thought would fit with that group of people. There's two types of songs for me: [there are] the ones that are a little bit self-indulgent, more experimental, kind of stuff at home; really only I can do that in a way. I didn't really want to bring that to the table. I catered to the tools I had, which were Ty, Nick, and then later, Eric Bauer at his studio. A song where I imagined a crazier drum pattern or something - choosing songs like that.” Also, due to the wealth of material he composes, this idea of selection stretches to deciding what does, doesn’t, and when certain materials are recorded. On the question of producing this wealth of material: “Yeah. It [seems to be] like a therapy session for me every day. I do it every day and night, all day and night, really. I just end up with a bunch of songs. Some are really good, some are bad, but I have a good pool to choose from.”

Presley with producer, collaborator & friend Ty Segall, whilst recording 'For the Recently Found Innocent'

Up until this most recent release, the previous records that Presley has recorded as White Fence have been primarily created, recorded and produced in his little studio at home. But for 2014’s release, he decided to do things differently. Perhaps after working in this way for some time a new and refreshed approach was needed. Discussing this most recent collection of songs and recording them:  they didn't move me in the same way that other home recordings did (…) I knew they were good but they weren't working in that capacity. I don't know what the deal was. It was like my room turned on me." As a result he decided to leave the confines of his home and studio and look to alternative means for getting a more satisfying result. Having previously recorded 2012’s album Hair with this individual, he decided to seek the help, new studio space and production input of his friend and collaborator Ty Segall. Consequently, Segall became the record’s producer and they would use his small studio (one time garage) to record the album in. It might also be fair to suggest, having read a number of accounts regarding the subject, that Segall became something of a ‘motivator’ on this project. He helped raise the mood and spur on the progression of the work when Presley was beginning to lose his inspiration for it.


'Time' from the album 'Hair', by 
White Fence & Ty Segall


The inspirations behind this record were, as ever with Presley, rich and varied. In particular, his Father’s death and background in the military and how this affected his family. He felt as though the loss of his Dad and the grieving process in some way enabled a far greater outpouring of creativity and subsequent amassing of material. “It’s really strange how something like that impacts someone, in a positive way" he explained. 

'And by Always' from the 'Is Growing Faith' Album 

Another idea was to adapt a theme(s) on the album; this time something similar to that which was explored on Is Growing Faith album of 2011. In place of ‘faith’ and the cultivating of it, he tried to suggest that the notion of ‘innocence’ might work in a comparable manner. As a result of this, thinking one might rid themselves of greed, fear, hate, envy and other negative emotions, and therefore allow a certain innocence to blossom. This might supply, particularly a creative soul, with a greater sense of accord and the ability to produce their work in a far more honest way. I guess it’s about trying to understand the darker sides of human nature and finding a kind of contentment in your own situation whatever that may be. The idea that Presley uses his creative calling - music - as a kind of therapy, is a feature that crops up on various occasions. This absolute compulsion to write and compose - even an addiction, as he himself has described it - seems both a way of better understanding the interrelated circumstances that surround us and equally, as a method of escaping them.

- In addition, this contains Presley’s interesting references to addiction in relation to the creation of his music.

'Anger Who Keeps you Under' 

My initial responses to the tracks on For the Recently Found Innocent were positive and largely as I expected them to be. This perhaps quite nicely leads me to one of the principle reasons for this article, which may also go some way towards answering the inevitable question, as to why one would write a retort of sorts, to an album released some five months ago. As I am sure we are all aware, in the modern music industry, reviews are written and published absolutely on release of said material, and in some cases, even before this event. These reviews are frequently principally flawed in my view. I say this because, the reviewer probably makes their mind up on the merits of the record after a single complete listen, as is the nature and time given to the job; and let’s be honest, there is almost certainly an agenda beforehand as to what their respective publications are going to endorse or throw scorn over. This is the ‘Hipster’ environment that for good or bad now affects all aspects of our popular culture today. I fully understand this and don’t believe it will change. It has, to varying degrees, always been this way since the dawning of youth/sub-cultures and associated ‘rebellions’ as we know them to be - I am not even certain how else it could manifest itself either. Nevertheless, I have always felt that it would be more applicable to the actual procedure of fully listening and getting to understand or otherwise, appreciate, hate or become enthralled in a record, to allow this to occur over a period of time; much in the same way that this generally happens with the listener. I think most of us have heard, or have adopted, the statement, “give it time, it’s a grower”, on certain necessary occasions. As I have become more aware of over time, the first response on listening to a record rarely remains the predominant sense after many subsequent listens. How many times of late have I listened to a record, which I enjoy at first but soon become increasingly bored with and in extreme cases, begin to loath (?). As a result of all this, I felt I would use this latest White Fence record as the subject of this piece - largely because I know and have appreciated much of his work previously - and therefore I aim to give a broad view on how I judge the album fits into his larger oeuvre. I recognise that this process of giving a fully considered response to an album, can only ever take place on rare occasions, but ones such as this. 

'Sandra (when the earth dies)'

As I have commented on before, I enjoyed this most recent White Fence record on first hearing it. It seemed to have many of the sounds and musical references found on his other previous examples. The opening track, and title track on the album, is a short little number, just over a minute long in fact, containing a hook that leaves you wishing it were longer. The Recently Found has a droll that introduces the record fairly well. Track two, Anger! Who Keeps You Under, is as you might expect with it being one of the records opening numbers, one of its strongest songs. The production is surprising for a White Fence song. The well-polished nature of it, I feel gives it real commercial appeal, which makes it the perfect foil for track three. Like That is the album’s single. I am not sure if there were any others, but nevertheless it appears precisely in that mould. This song is an unbridled ‘hit’; of that there is no doubt - a quintessential single. It sounds a lot like The Who in their early, three-minute pop making era. On this Presley’s commented: "When I first wrote it I was like, ‘Dude, I just wrote a hit, (…) I was almost embarrassed to record it. I almost threw it away. But Ty was like, ‘What about that song?' So we cut it. It's a weird one." I would agree, as White Fence songs go, this does seem a little strange, but no less catchy for it. Sandra (when the earth dies) follows this and is one of my personal favourites. Again, like much of White Fence’s back catalogue, the British influence on this understated, yet intriguingly familiar song, is abundantly clear. It has a slight Syd Barrett/’Kinksy’ element to it, with a piano section, supplied by Mikal Cronin, another musician from this current L.A music scene. Taking more than a little inspiration from the English music hall sound, this track sounds more Canterbury psychedelia than any delta blues or Americana infused weirdness, as would have been ‘closer to home’, so to speak – and this influence for me is undeniably a good thing too.

'Hey! Roman Nose' from 'Family Perfume vol. 1'

'Balance Your Heart' from 'Family Perfume vol. 1'

'Be At Home' from 'Family Perfume vol. 2'

In my view (and this is all it is clearly), the album begins to show some signs of lethargy from this point. Although the structure and production remain very professional, one begins to suspect that this approach to making the record is in fact stifling it a little and in some instances, has positively smothered it. It therefore starts to become somewhat predictable I feel. The great White Fence double album Family Perfume vol. 1 & 2 (2012) works so well because of the apparent freedom of expression they both exude and how they make you feel as though you can never guess what is coming next – the songs are always surprising but unmistakably White Fence. I sense that that sort of unshackled creative approach is what Presley is so good at. Likewise, after listening to all of Presley’s albums many times, if I were to make the judgement that as pure musical material - i.e. songs alone go - 2013’s Cyclops Reaps is his finest example of this critical source. Therefore, if such an artistic spectrum does exist, at the opposite end of it regrettably has to be this year’s album. There are some really great songs on the record, as I have said. Raven on White Cadillac, Hard Water, Good Bye Law, are some other highlights; with their mixture of Americana, folk and country; as is the classic sounding Presley number, with it’s high energy directness, Arrow Man. This song particularly feels almost as though it could easily have been a Darker My Love track, which I suppose is understandable, but is also something that is hard to find on any of the earlier White Fence releases. 

'Arrow Man'

'Raven on White Cadillac'

It is undoubtedly the fact that this record is a much more accessible body of work and one which has been recorded in a far more conventional manner. The mixing of the final album has obviously taken place on a grander scale and therefore has allowed it to emerge as a more lucid piece. However, for all that this production value brings, I sense that these are the very aspects that have removed some of the appeal for me of a White Fence collection of songs. Perhaps this is just a different approach and another way of going about things. My overriding sense is that, as much as I enjoyed Tim’s previous band Darker My Love, I consider that this record could almost have been one of theirs’. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. I would like to hear another DML album one day and who knows that day might come sooner rather than not. I would rather see that occur, if this is the type of albums Presley intends on making in the foreseeable future anyway. The whole band dynamic often enhances this sort of sound anyway. Conversely, with regards more tangible matters, many of the subtle nuances and vital little details of a White Fence record appear to have been lost on this last album, for one reason or another; even if the predominant sound created has largely stayed intact.

Darker My Love with 'Two Ways Out'

I have tried to be as honest as I can here and unlike most reviews, I have also attempted not to carry any overall agenda. The music made by this individual, I can safely say I know and haven’t just given it a very brief listen to. From all this prior deliberating though, I would like to surmise by saying that after creating five intriguingly powerful, musically individual albums, this current work comes across as being more straightforward in its presented form. In terms of songs, it has a few of Presley’s strongest that is clear as well. I just personally hope that the lo-fi nature and refreshingly different production, which was White Fence and those joyfully bizarre little moments, will emerge yet again on future releases.

- All the quotes in this article have been taken from recent interviews with Presley and concern the release of ‘For the Recently Found Innocent’. These quotes have all been marked and linked to the original source.