White Fence: Is Growing Faith

Photo by W. P. Canzoneri

Tim Presley thinks he recorded the great lost Kinks album; too bad that came out 40 years ago.

White Fence

Is Growing Faith

Label: Woodsist
US Release Date: 2011-01-18
UK Release Date: 2011-02-01
Label Website
Band Website

Imagine you have a friend who is pretty smart and has some interesting things to say, but your friend thinks that, in order to sound smart and interesting, he or she needs to speak with a French accent (because all of his or her favorite philosophers are French, say). White Fence does the same thing, but with the Kinks. Tim Presley, known from his other band Darker My Love and perhaps from his involvement with the Strange Boys, writes good songs with catchy tunes, but puts on a Ray Davies accent and makes all of the production sound like an early Kinks album. The affectation overwhelms the talent, and by the end of this long album whatever was interesting is so buried in backdating that one feels annoyed.

Sure, there are some other influences here -- Syd Barrett, Swell Maps and other Nikki Sudden, and so on in predictable fashion. But the most important thing in rock and roll is to walk the fine line between incorporating and emulating your influences. Rock and roll is a rehash; there’s little to no originality. That doesn’t mean that you need to recreate as faithfully as possible the sound, style, and general aesthetic of your favorite albums. (Sometimes this aspiration goes right, by going slightly wrong, so that a band attempting a backdated sound finds something “new”, like Ariel Pink, for a recent example).

A telling example is Presley’s cover of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”, which closes the album. All he does is add a quarter-note piano and a harmonica (and fumble a couple of words) to make the song his own. The overall effect is cheapening. This song is simple and silly, but greatly effective when Thunders does it. (Hey, he ripped this riff off from himself, an earlier New York Dolls track, “Lonely Planet Boy”). All of Presley’s projects veer too closely to straight up reproduction of influences, rather than building on them. Darker My Love does San Francisco ‘60s rock, the Strange Boys do early ‘60s US garage, and White Fence does ‘60s British psychedelia. The first White Fence album already announced this point of view; Is Growing Faith kicks it up a notch.

Since White Fence went for it, all the way, then we have no choice but to hold it up against the thing it’s trying to be. White Fence does a mix of early Kinks production with a bit of mid-Kinks songwriting. Now, early Kinks are great as a garage band, but the mid-Kinks are better because Ray and company strived for a total vision, which meant more innovative songwriting and production, with narrative lyrics and innovative arrangements. White Fence backs off the innovation, writes slightly more than simple songs, and sticks to simplistic garage production. So, in my mind, it comes off as lazy. “Your Best Friend” is a good idea and a fair song, but it’s so dependent on Presley pulling off his Ray Davies voice that it becomes impossible to listen to.

The other ingredient in White Fence is a Syd Barret quirkiness -- Presley obviously doesn’t possess the storytelling ability of Davies, so he goes for the silly: smaller songs, non-narrative, absurdist. When you take this approach, it’s hard not to think of Television Personalities, who took on a similar idea as White Fence, but did it much more cleverly.

At first, I actually liked this album, but it suffers from that psychedelic problem of not knowing when to edit -- too many songs that are too repetitive. The album doesn’t cohere; it wanders. A loose and weird album can be good, but it needs a bigger spark of inspiration (read: eccentricity) than this. Everything from the first moment comes across as such a put on. White Fence fits in that scene of precious psych-pop bands with their toy instruments who rehash old sounds -- often with good sense for melodies -- but who meanwhile miss the sexiness of rock and roll with their childish paint-by-numbers approach (or in this case, crayon drawing by numbers -- see the album cover). The songs are playful, but the concept is humorless since it’s too reverent. Who cares if you like the Kinks and ‘60s psych rock? So do I. Let’s move on.





Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.


The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.


'The Kill Chain': Why America Might Lose Its Next Big War

Christian Brose's defense-nerd position paper, The Kill Chain, inadvertently reveals that the Pentagon's problems (complacency, inertia, arrogance) reflect those of the country at large.


2006's 'Flat-Pack Philosophy' Saw Buzzcocks Determined to Build Something of Quality

With a four-decade career under their belt, on the sixth disc in the new box-set Sell You Everything, it's heartening to see Buzzcocks refusing to settle for an album that didn't try something new.


'Lie With Me': Beauty, Love and Toxic Masculinity in the Gay '80s

How do we write about repression and toxic masculinity without valorizing it? Philippe Besson's Lie With Me is equal parts poignant tribute and glaring warning.


Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.


Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers Merge Haitian Folk and Electronic Music on 'Vodou Alé'

Haitian roots music meets innovative electronics on Chouk Bwa and the Ångströmers' Vodou Alé.

My Favorite Thing

Weird and Sweet, Riotous and Hushed: The Beatles' 'The White Album'

The Beatles' 'The White Album' is a piece of art that demonstrates how much you can stretch, how far you can bend, how big you really are. The album is deeply weird. It has mass. It has its own weather.


Sarah Jarosz Finds Inspiration in Her Texas Roots on 'World on the Ground'

By turning to her roots in central Texas for inspiration on World on the Ground, Sarah Jarosz has crafted some of her strongest songs yet.


Hinds' 'The Prettiest Curse' Is One of Victory

On The Prettiest Curse, Hinds create messy pop music that captures the vibrancy of youth without being childish.


12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.