In Apocalypse Now, before Captain Willard is sent up the river to kill Colonel Kurtz, there’s a review of Kurtz’s accomplishments, his military CV, which shows just what an amazing officer he was before he went off the deep end. And so we begin our story about Tim Presley, whose weird/magnificent Cyclops Reap was recently released under the band name White Fence.
Not three years ago, Tulip Frenzy called Presley’s band Darker My Love’s Alive As You Are the Album Of The Year. Last year, we awarded Hair, the collaboration between White Fence and Ty Segall, half of the the runner-up position to Woods in the Album Of The Year honors (the other half going to Ty for Twins). So we climb into our little PT boat heading up the river after Presley with admiration, respect, and gratitude for the pleasure his music has given us over the past several years. And also puzzlement. How has it come to this?
The reason we have embarked on this voyage is that, since 2010, when Darker My Love was put on hiatus, Presley’s White Fence albums have been tantalizing, frustrating lo-fi oddities, recorded in his bedroom, under the influence of, what exactly? What’s happened to the guy, his state of mind? Presley has now entered the category of pop genius-savants-eccentrics that include Syd Barrett, The Residents, and The Shaggs — in all cases, musicians you marvel at more than you enjoy. We’ve listened to each of the White Fence albums, and the feeling is this: you begin by hearing glimmers of pop smithery that brings a smile to your face, and then you wait for it to congeal into some kind of solid form, but riffs come and go, melodies dissolve faster than snowflakes in Los Angeles, and unless you are in, shall we say, a state where psychedelic albums can be understood in their fullest, you just have to wonder: what the Hell is he doing?
Last year, he put out the massive Family Perfume in two parts, released a few weeks apart. It was said that Part One was curated by Ty Segall, and in fact it came out just a few weeks after Presley and Segall’s great album. But after listening to both parts several times, we found it really hard to want to listen some more, because it was just too frustrating — too fragmented, ethereal, the sound quality too low, as both the key and the meters in which the songs were being played shifted in swirling mists. We gave up… And went back to listening to Darker My Love.
And yet our little boat takes a turn in the river and we can hear, from loudspeakers above the bridge ahead, Presley’s new ‘un, Cyclops Reap. One song (“Trouble Is Trouble Never Seen”) is sung in the exact phrasing as Eno’s “The True Wheel.” In another song (“New Edinburgh), we hear the riff from “Needles And Pins” float in and exit like it got poked by a pointed object. ”Pink Gorilla” sounds like an outtake from a lost ’60s artifact. Whole segments of Nuggets get thrown in a Cuisinart, along with jimson weed, nutmeg, and yage, and out comes… out comes… well, damn if this doesn’t sort of begin to work… If you get into the spirit of things, you begin to realize… yummy, this is eccentric garage psyche, but it actually sounds like… an album, replete with music spliced into units we generally refer to as… songs.
First, the sound quality no longer makes you think he recorded the whole thing on his iPhone. Second, there are more recognizable, longer-lasting fragments of melody on this one. Sure, this is surpassingly odd music, but… if you have the inclination to sit still and listen to what has to be one of the strangest career detours in the history of rock’n'roll, you will find Cyclops Reap to be a confounding, ultimately intoxicating album.
Which explains why, when we finally found him, Presley was sitting there playing sitar surrounded by naked Montagnards and a babbling Dennis Hopper. And having invested the time to discover how genuinely interesting this is, we think we’ll stay for a while, happy to discover we don’t have to carry out our mission “with extreme prejudice.”