Tim Presley’s White Fence – I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk

Tim Presley's White Fence project takes on a new, more ambient and impressionistic – though not wholly unfamiliar – direction, spurred on by a move back to San Francisco and the spectre of addiction

Album Review by Tony Inglis | 24 Jan 2019
  • Tim Presley's White Fence – I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk
Album title: I Have to Feed Larry's Hawk
Artist: Tim Presley's White Fence
Label: Drag City
Release date: 25 Jan

Before even clicking play on I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk, it’s clear this isn’t your typical White Fence album. First off, it’s billed as Tim Presley’s White Fence. While Presley has been the creative spark behind the prolific, distinctly DIY project, it becomes clear only a few seconds into the record that this is an even more insular work than what’s come previously. There’s also the strange, minimalistic cover: Microsoft Word blue and white, depicting the common shorthand for a medical prescription. It’s cold and clinical, and that’s not something often associated with White Fence.

The same cannot be said for the majority of the album’s contents. While this record will ultimately be perceived as an outlier among Presley’s discography, mainly thanks to the opening, penultimate and final tracks (and those certainly deserve some unpacking), in the end I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk delivers the same meticulously crafted, 60s indebted, but still idiosyncratic psych-folk that Presley is known for. It just happens to be sandwiched between some of the most outré music he has ever put to tape.

The record opens eerily with the title track. Before Presley’s voice appears, crisp and airy, the twinkling keys bring to mind the riverboat scene from Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s unclear whether the riff is a deliberate reference, but it creates an unshakeable atmosphere, even when streaks of electric guitar penetrate the broiling mood. It works perfectly, especially with the metaphorical image of feeding the hawk, one that is both ethereal and mundane. Like that movie, it also conjures the feeling of a calm before the storm – a moment in which control could be lost at any second. It’s enrapturing. This has even greater resonance when you learn that the hawk of Presley’s imagination, and perhaps reality, is addiction, one that is constantly ravenous and must be satiated.

But listening to the songs that follow (Phone, I Love You), they don’t approach this level of experimentation and unease. They are much warmer, more classic sounding. It’s a little shambling, and Presley’s primitive piano playing lends the tracks a childlike quality. There are no real raucous freakouts and, compared to his collaborative album with Ty Segall last year, Joy, the songs are more tethered and fully realised. It’s perhaps the most melancholy we’ve heard Presley, even while he incorporates the same aesthetic and techniques from past records.

The organ-led Fog City points toward the greater focus on Presley’s lyricism, finishing with the refrain: 'Always a danger in leaving the past'. It’s a line that represents development, in moving on from demons, styles, even in the progression of this record. It reappears on Fog City (outro), though this time the organs are more carnival-esque, and collapse out of tune by the song’s end. Something has faded out of view.

What follows is the two-song suite Harm Reduction, a couple of ambling synth-oriented ambient tracks, in the vein of Hiroshi Yoshimura or Suzanne Ciani. These New Age pieces are bright, hypnotic and repetitive, though their creation is more interesting than their execution. After working on the record in the Cumbrian countryside with frequent collaborator and kindred spirit Cate Le Bon, Presley upped sticks from his home in Los Angeles to move back to San Francisco after some time away. The latter is a city ravaged by the housing crisis, and one in which homeless people, and the afflictions that haunt them such as drug use, are poorly addressed. Moving back seems to have made a significant impact on Presley’s work, both in teasing out something totally unheard of from his arsenal of talents, while laying bare the issues that plague folks there. That change has inspired this closing movement, a dollop of escapism for an artist looking to find the positive in the increasingly hopeless.

Listen to: I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk, Harm Reduction suite, Phone