“Silence is the question,” Tim Presley declares on the second track of his seventh album as White Fence, his resonate guitar dripping like a machete drenched with the blood of so many hoary truths. “I never liked the answer.” From there it’s just a quick breath before you stumble back into the thicket of doubt, envy, pain, and “Anger! What Keeps You Under?”
What distinguishes For The Recently Found Innocent from the rest of White Fence’s catalog is its clarity, both in how sparse the record sounds and its willingness to nakedly confront what ails all of us, not just the guy in the bedroom with the 4-track.
“Pay for things and not feel sickened / Want to live like that,” Presley sings on “Like That”, a lament for the shrinking middle class in the guise of a silly pop song. We all want to live on Genevieve Street, but who can afford the rent?
These notions of domestic devotion, status as love, money as worth, clashing with class and privilege, all hitting you with the thud of a waiter dropping the check, are rendered with Monkees-grade irresistibility and the devastating simplicity of an expert songwriter: “Silver gates but keep them open / Want to live like that / Police see us but don’t see us / Want to live like that.”
“Hard Water” has Presley smiling at someone who fancies themselves Figured Out. “Wear your silver on your hip / for so long you’re known for it,” he cooes over a slippery slide guitar and a Gin Blossoms chord progression. “And you’ve acted for so long / You’re the perfect fit for it.”
“Actor” seems straightforward enough, with its la la las and its fox hunt rhythm. But when the melody turns the corner, you really don’t know how to feel—the mark of perfect melancholy. This is Presley’s textbook folk-rock soup, from concentrate.
For The Recently Found Innocent owes some of its deceptive complexity to its producer, Ty Segall, who has banished Presley from his warped sonic tool shed and removed some of the pots from his gypsy wagon. This isn’t Hair, and Segall’s role is to sharpen Presley’s spear rather than imbue it with his own tastes.
The fidelity to Presley’s style is there, if rendered without the assistance of strange noises or happy accidents. Recorded in the typical White Fence fashion, “Wolf Gets Red Faced” might float through its five minutes, one mini-song bleeding into the next. Here there are discrete movements that bookend a tasty, prairie-bitten solo.
Still, brash tantrums like “The Light” would have benefitted from some sabotage. Even “Arrow Man”, the feedback-laden Tall Tale (“Swift solid deadly / Arrow Man”) is tethered. The piano on “Raven On White Cadillac” feels plastic. Sometimes a messy bed just shouldn’t be made.
These critiques fade when the didactic organ kicks in on “Sandra (When The Earth Dies)”, and you can feel your spine tingle against the hard pew.
“Laugh and cry, oh laugh and cry / And say, say goodbye,” Presley instructs. “When the earth dies we wished we’d die.” It’s a sobering message, so why are we smiling?