Sunday, May 21, 2017

White Fence's "Live in San Francisco": Music Review

This one-man, four-track, bedroom studio musician faces a challenge. Transferring the intimacy of his warped, intricately textured and lo-fi recordings, taken from five albums, to a tiny San Francisco stage poses difficulties. Tim Presley's White Fence succeeds. These folksy, jangling and rambling ditties transform through a vibrant, versatile band, if only for two nights at the end of March 2013.

At the club Amnesia, caught on a multi-track Tascam 388 by four engineers, Live In San Francisco introduced a series of concerts captured by Thee Oh See's John Dwyer, for his Castle Face label. Dwyer's own band with frequent collaborator Ty Segall has proven compatible with Presley's neo-psychedelic, early Seventies-inspired and Anglophile sounds. Presley's voice will remain an acquired taste, but those who favor Robyn Hitchcock's homage to Syd Barrett, or George Harrison and Ray Davies' earnest, hushed warbles will find Presley's updates on their British style familiar and fun.

For all his quirks on tape, Presley live exudes a detached air. Judging from these results, he might have begun the concerts with trepidation. This album opens as he scolds the audience, followed by some noodling. However, discipline kicks in. The combination of "Swagger Vets and Double Moon" with "Mr. Adams/Who Feels Right" aspires to late-Sixties pop combined with Captain Beefheart's manic arrangements. The line-up allows Presley's compositions to air out from their compressed DIY origins. In this fresh atmosphere, these melodies bloom brighter and their harmonies resound happier.

The best song comes third, not last. "Baxter Corner" may be credited to a notoriously steep street of San Franciscan grade that traps transmissions and terrifies drivers relying on GPS apps and not a topological map of the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, where Presley now resides. Tripling its original running time, this deft workout jolts, shudders and erupts into fiery riffs. Sean Presley and Jack Adams earn credit for their supplement to Presley's lead guitar. These three lock in to bear down.

"The Pool" blends the queasy melodies of The Soft Boys with a chord progression from The Doors. It's more awkward than the previous tracks. This mid-set shifts into a folksy singer-songwriter mode, as Presley's delivery writhes around skewed lyrics. After the freed propulsion of the see-saw rhythms of "Harness," it's back to the spindly "Lizards First." Slide guitar enlivens this originally wobbly tune. As often here, this version strengthens the Tinkertoy scaffolding of Presley's at-home song structures.

Back when Presley fronted Darker My Love, that band found some of its musicians recruited suddenly from opening for The Fall in 2006 to serving as their line-up, at least for one album. On "Chairs in the Dark," Presley's bark recalls that of Mark E. Smith. That singer must have recognized congenially eccentric talent when summoning DML to fill in on his Reformation Post TLC for 2007.

"Tame" begins as if another mid-tempo jangle, before battering down the house. Nick Murray's cymbals break through, even if Presley's moaning vocals overstay their welcome. Just as Hitchcock relied on Barrett to excess, so Presley stands accused of too closely imitating his English forebears.

But both Hitchcock and Barrett valued power within a cutting chord. One elevates "Pink Gorilla." Guitars snap and catchy notes stick in one of Presley's most accessible creations, testimony to his gift.

The careening "Enthusiasm" blurs past smoothly, despite Presley's increasing mannerisms as his affected voice carries the final songs. "Be Right Too" and the closer "Breathe Again" nod to John Lennon's "I Am the Walrus" days, and their daze conjures up a key influence on Darker My Love.

Jared Everett's bass measures these beats while the band wraps up their gigs smartly. Their leader has progressed from hardcore with The Nerve Agents through DML's soaring Beatlesque post-punk to White Fence's memorable take on cult-artist art-rock after the British Invasion. Since this album appeared, two White Fence efforts completed their discography. Today, with partner Cate Le Bon, Tim Presley dismantles the guitar-based rock of this heyday. He pursues an experimental, twinkly and bent approach to songs, having left behind these instrumental constructions of rock as we know it.
(Spectrum Culture 11/28/16)

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