20 More Jazz Funk Greats
Tim Presley has basically done it all. First, he cut his teeth on hardcore (The Nerve Agents). Then, he got his psych rock peanut butter in Rob Barbato’s shoegaze chocolate (Darker My Love). And prior to taking the gold in at least a few events at the Lo-Fi Olympics (Ty Segall can’t win ‘em all), he even recorded a record with The Fall. But despite the disparities between these projects, his detractors have a tendency to rag on him and his entire oeuvre for sounding “too 60’s.”
Presley, who has been recording as White Fence since 2010, doesn’t really seem to mind the comparison. But he does get frustrated with critics who can’t see the forest for the trees. In a 2012 interview with Gothamist, he complained that “no one fucking harps on 80’s sounding stuff or 90’s pop-punk,” and that they opt to “pick on the 60’s guys” instead. Now, the reality of such a double standard is totally arguable, but anyone focusing on Presley’s decade of derivation, rather than his spooky ability to write a killer song, is totally missing out.
The self-titled debut from Presley’s latest project – under the moniker, W-X – comes off like a 20 track, 56 minute rejoinder to the aforementioned critics. Sure, it’s lo-fi from cover to cover, replete with false starts, a high noise floor and a mercifully small amount of the clipping that often made the White Fence debut such a challenging listen. But apart from a couple tracks, this predominantly instrumental album veers away from 60’s sonics in favor of drum machines (the “Trap Deal” trilogy), digital pitch-shifting (“Dancing Lips”), polyphonic synthesizers (“Desert Temple Players”) and the unmistakable sounds of the 80’s (the drum loop in “Restless Leg”).
Presley’s expanded sonic palette is a pleasant surprise, but what really sets W-X apart from his previous work is its wide range of attitudes. “Intro” (all 24 seconds of it) and “The Lurk” seem to set the stage for some sort of beat mixtape, but that notion is whisked away with little warning as Presley comes up for air with the flat out garage rock of “Steer Clear.” Tradition is abandoned in the second half of the song, as a stuttering beat and a bunch of delay pedal twiddling aptly steers clear of familiar territory.
With its mellotron, dissonant synth lines and funky drum and bass interplay, “Running from the Dogs” is like the best action movie score King Crimson and Brian Eno never recorded. “Copping in the Afternoon” dips into Can/Faust territory, while several other tracks (“Restless Leg,” “Extortion,” “Desert Temple Players” and “The Saddest Lyrics I Have Ever Written”) share much in common with Throbbing Gristle, the Residents and pre-Crackdown Cabaret Voltaire.
When Presley sings on this record, he does so with a thick tongue, half-open mouth and a hint of UK-ish accent. Whether it’s fully intentional or a byproduct of working closely with Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon as DRINKS (their trippy and frustratingly cool record, Hermits on Holiday, saw release only three months prior), it works a hell of a lot better than that fake accent Al Jourgensen used to rock. Naturally, the lyrics are difficult to understand, buried as they often are under sheets of delay that surpass even the Butthole Surfers at their most piercing and spastic.
But repeat listens offer many rewards, revealing Presley’s whimsical wordplay bit by bit. “Clean it Glen” is full of stream-of-consciousness passages such as “Clean the words right off the newspaper if you can / Just don’t tell me if you clean it Glen.” Lines like “Wore pretty pants for the slippery slope,” “Go to sleep and love your dreams” and “Sunlight architect gets fired up / I thought I was the easy one” are cryptic and colorful enough to pop word by word from the mouths of Presley’s latest cast of Yellow Submarine-from-hell characters (check the cover). Firmly planted at the border between nonsense and euphoria, W-X takes its pick from the best of both territories.
With W-X, Tim Presley has carved out a completely new sound for himself. An absurd amount of effort would go into comparing this fantastic double LP to any existing work, and it would be for naught. Presley is clearly making the sounds he wants to make. He is not trying to please his critics, nor is he pandering to a specific corner of the lo-fi market. He’s not even trying to win over the dude (John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees) whose label (Castle Face) is releasing the record. In a free verse press release of sorts for W-X, Dwyer writes, “He told me I would hate this repeatedly, and I replied that it is my favorite masterpiece of his (of which there are many).” Anyone who gives this weird, fun record a solid listen will find it very hard to disagree with him.