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White Fence - Is Growing Faith

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Artist: White Fence

Album: Is Growing Faith

Label: Woodsist

Review date: Feb. 7, 2011

"Allusive, not derivative" was the final word on Tim Presley’s debut outing as White Fence. This time around, my first reaction to Is Growing Faith is “middling in the worst way”: in tempo, in songwriting, and in ambition. If this sounds familiar, both in sound and criticism, it’s because this isn’t the first time this phrase has come up. The initial occurrence referred to Art Museums, Woodsist companions who represent the more disappointing psych-revival wing of said label.

Except this time around Presley goes beyond revival to resurrectional. “And By Always” starts out harmlessly enough. The sunwashed, bass-depleted quality complements the requisite tambourines, exotic guitar tones and Anglo-flecked vocals. It even moves along at enough of a clip to keep me interested and even a little excited to see where it goes, especially with the quickening right at the very end. This is clearly a departure point, unexpected but more than welcome.

Then the acceleration gets clipped, and White Fence hits the reset button. The next three songs are where Presley crosses over into Frankenstein territory, dancing about in Ringo’s, then John’s, then Paul’s skins (sorry, George). “Growing Faith,” “Sticky Fruitman Has Faith,” and “Your Last Friend Alive” appropriate not just the vocal styles, but the songwriter proclivities that made Beatles compositions distinguishable from each other. In retrospect, maybe it’s more of a Buffalo Bill act.

Honestly, it’s a little bit disturbing how all consuming the Beatles influence is. Let me try to explain why.

The existence of professional cover bands has the same effect on me as nails on a chalkboard: Not only does the live experience give me chills, but just mentioning the existence of such a phenomenon has me heading out the door. For example, I used to take the train back and forth between Long Island and Manhattan a lot. The platforms at every station are bisected by large ad displays for all manner of Broadway-related shows that, when staring aimlessly out the window, easily caught your attention when you pulled into a station. Last summer, the big ad blitz was for some kind of Beatles tribute revue, complete with four impostors done up as a disconcertingly ersatz Fab Four. I couldn’t look at it, and god help me if I ever had to sit through the show. The reason I’m going into such a particular hang-up of mine is this: Is Growing Faith is provoking the same type of reaction. It’s not quite the same, as these songs are all clearly original and contemporary. But there’s something going on that goes beyond just benign derivation.

And it’s not like White Fence doesn’t have some good ideas. They just come in very short bursts that expire quickly. I refer you to the rockin’ outro on "Your Last Friend Alive" that bleeds into the Velvet Underground pre-verse moments of "Enthusiasm”; the plaintively sober departures from Presley’s wannabe accent on "When There Is No Crowd”; the inexplicable Beefheart-meets-Can perversion that is "The Mexican Twins/Life is...Too $Hort." Even the Dylan costume on "You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory" feels like a relief, though only because it offers a reprieve from the Beatles parade.

In the end, I guess this just serves as a proof point that the uncanny valley that says we’ll never accept humanoid robots holds true for bands. Get too close to the real without making it your own, and I will reject it.

By Evan Hanlon

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