Possibly named after the classic East L.A. street gang, retro-psych-pop rockers White Fence, led by – and more or less consisting solely of – Timothy Presley (Strange Boys, Darker My Love), seem determined to break out in 2012, first releasing a collaborative album with garage hero Ty Segall, titled Hair, and now offering up a long, impressive double album called Family Perfume, Vol 1 & 2 on an up-and-coming indie imprint Woodsist Records.
Made for the LP format, Family Perfume was first released as two separate LPs – Vol. 1 then Vol. 2, natch – before seeing a single-disc CD release. Both volumes are 40 minutes long and consist of 13 and 15 short, dusty pop songs, respectively. Presley, like Jack White in the early naughts of Segall today, has a sound that comes directly from the countless garage rock records released in the 60s – both the obscure nuggets and radio gold. Like classic-era GBV, the tracks feel slightly messy and often lo-fi, with little bottom end and a focus on simple pop structure and economy-of-sound. Presley adds his flair for sloppy-but-impressive solos to many of the tracks, howling away in a manner that reminds of an early-90s Stephen Malkmus. Fractured and disjointed, but also not that different than the kind of solo you’d hear on records by The Sonics or even early Kinks.
“Wake up, write, write, write, record.” When asked about the record by his press agent, Presley had much to say. “Record more. Swallow. Tweak out. Tweak. Bounce. Write. Wake up. Record. Sex? No. Sleep. Wake up. Record. I hardly have anything but this anymore. I’m a slave to my cats. I feed them before i feed my stomach but I live here in it.”
Clearly a man on a determined, inspired and romantic creative streak, Presley claimed to have 60 of these lo-fi gems completed before he arranged his final tracklist. He cut that collection in half to form the CD version of the album and then cut it in half again to make up the two LP volumes. Some songs are quiet and gentle and folk-influenced, some are psychedelic and drugged out and weird. But most are just retro sounding home recorded pop songs that match the modest-but-effective production value of Elliott Smith’s first three solo records.
“I’m a rock n’ roll soldier forever. I melt music,” Presley continued with only as much irony as you require. “When people talk to me, I’m thinking about some song to do. I think i’ve been cursed. I have no say in the matter. A rainbow Vex. It’s okay though – it’s for the greater good. A good song can make someone feel so good, or make someone want to write a better one. And sometimes it can make you rob a liquor store. These are the songs of a man in a bag, and his blue pen.”
Brilliant, I say. Just like the songs. Sure, I don’t love every single track in this epic drag, but I do enjoy most of them very much. They’re gentle, understated gems that feel both personal and universal. Epic but minor. Subtle, timeless pop tracks that – excuse me here – hold the spirit of rock n’ roll in a way we rarely hear in 2012. A record to live with and treasure. In closing, I leave you with a few words about White Fence from Presely’s biggest fan, Ty Segall himself: “This [album] is not a joke. This is the hit factory. This is the eye. This is another planet. And hurry up, cause this perfume ain’t available at no Macy’s. Long live Keith!”