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White Fence - Cyclops Reap

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Artist: White Fence

Album: Cyclops Reap

Label: Castle Face

Review date: Apr. 24, 2013

It is probably apt that Cyclops Reap begins in a false start, a two-second blare of organ and drum machine that stops abruptly and gives way to Tim Presley’s signature fuzzed guitar. All White Fence albums are, to one degree or another, exercises in ignoring distractions, clearing away extraneities and brushing off the dirt and distortion. The reward, when it comes, is in fragments of melodic beauty glinting like beach glass amid sand and sea junk.

Cyclops Reap is, if anything, more loosely strung and haphazard than earlier White Fence albums, a tidal drift of floating guitar lines, Lennon-ish whimsies, minimalist drums and tape hiss. Nothing leaps out of the mess like “Sara Snow” did from the self-titled LP, nothing grabs you by the lapels like “I Can’t Get Around You” did in the Ty Segall split Hair. “Pink Gorilla” is the single almost by default. It is only fractionally more in-your-face and immediate than any of the other songs.

Yet, like the closely aligned Woods, Presley slides epiphanies into songs sideways, so that you have to turn them over, listening again and again from different angles, to find the good stuff. It is probably going to take you half a dozen times before “To the Boy I Jumped in the Hemlock Alley” makes a linear kind of sense, before the jumbled strumming and careening bent notes start to seem even tangentially related to the pretty song underneath them. Similarly, it might be a week or so before you hear much besides clangor in the hard-chorded “New Edinburgh,” before the Syd Barrett-ish dreaminess of the vocal starts to clear an oasis amid noisy conflagration. Elements of these tunes — the loping guitars, the hive-buzzing undertones of bass, the clattery drums — exist at first in isolation and only gradually come together in the ear for an integrated picture.

Presley is, of course, famously prolific, bringing scores of fragmentary ideas to his collaborators (this time, Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer) and leaving it to them to find the good ones and create some sort of cohesive statement. You wonder what might happen if he slowed down the flow, concentrated on a few of his tunes and brought them more fully realized to the studio. As it is, Cyclop Reaps has the aura of automatic writing, a stream of unfiltered imagery that is, intermittently, quite arresting, but as a whole shapeless and hard to navigate.

I love the sound of some of these songs, the soft psychedelia “Make Them Dinner at our Shoes,” the fragility of tunefulness inside “Pink Gorilla”’s feedback-crusted blare. Yet, I can’t help but feel that I’m listening to this album with my hands in front of me, waving, trying to clear the smoke away so that I can actually hear the songs.

By Jennifer Kelly

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