White Fence, ‘Cyclops Reap’ – Album Review
Last year was a banner year for Tim Presley, the man behind White Fence. Operating under that moniker, he joined the three-records-in-a-year club, releasing ‘Hair,’ a sub-30-minute bark of weirdo garage-psych recorded with the like-minded Ty Segall (who also managed three LPs last year), as well as two volumes of 4-track-recorded guitar-pop with the title ‘Family Perfume’ slapped on the front. The latter two discs totaled an impressive 29 tracks, whittled down from a reported 80. On top of all that, Presley is a member of Strange Boys and Darker My Love. Like fellow modern-day California garage-rock journeymen Segall and Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer, this dude keeps insanely busy, recording music like he’s trying to ward off disease.
It makes sense, then, that Presley officially joins their ranks at Dwyer’s Castle Face imprint for his latest offering, ‘Cyclops Reap.’ The LP picks up almost exactly where ‘Family Perfume Vol. 2′ left off. Exploring loosely constructed psych-pop yarns, Presley smears honey-dripped vocals over fuzzy major-key guitar meanderings. He does a pretty convincing version of ’60s garage-y psychedelia, ignoring the last 50 years or so of recording technology and sticking with an analog-tape-manipulation type of experimentalism. Even the song titles sound like they’re of the era. The only thing that betrays the record’s age is Presley’s occasional willingness to veer into noisy punk realms. As with ‘Family Perfume,’ everything sounds immediately aged, and it can often seem as if Presley is more interested in capturing a certain aura than in writing songs.
Which is actually fine. Presley isn’t trying to re-contextualize his influences in the way that, say, Tame Impala does with a similar kind of sound, and he’s working within the same consistent framework he always has. But his songwriting instincts are more than strong enough to make ‘Cyclops Reap’ an engaging and substantive listen in that regard. And his chops have only gotten better since ‘Family Perfume.’ It also helps that ‘Cyclops Reap’ feels like a fully and purposefully sequenced album, rather than a bunch of excerpts from a recording session. The ‘Family Perfume’ tracks, on the other hand, started to bleed into one another by the end of each volume.
There’s a more varied array of songs on ‘Cyclops Reap,’ with arrangements that are easier to pick out. The tracks come and go in minor peaks and valleys. The first trio of cuts build from the mid-tempo, bleary-eyed ‘Chairs In the Dark’ to ‘Pink Gorilla,’ a collage of fractured, fuzzed-out guitar lines dodging in and out of sight. Presley still likes songs that trip over themselves — drums lose their place at times, and guitars momentarily give up — but the hiccups are there on purpose, and they get dragged forward by his unwaveringly melodic voice. It’s reminiscent of the Olivia Tremor Control’s tendency to step out of mucky, psychedelic flailing into passages of stellar, ascendant beauty.
‘Cyclops Reap’ summits near the middle with a few tracks that find Presley landing some of his most memorable and exacting turns to date — all of which can be traced to single facets of each song: the syncopated stomp under the chorus of ‘Live on Genevieve,’ the echoing guitar arpeggios on “To the Boy I Jumped In the Hemlock Alley,” the twirl of whiny guitar lines on “New Edinburgh,” the sharp tempo change on “White Cat.”
Presley has a masterful handle on his sound — he runs circles around most other psych-leaning guitar acts in pure sonic ability — and it’s only a mater letting the songs stand out from the aesthetic fingerprints beneath by carving out those unique little parts. A lot of ‘Cyclops Reap’ does that, but not all of it.