Douglas Martin is Russell Westbrook’s spirit animal.
Not to undercut my entire post before I even start it, but if you plan on listening to either volume of White Fence‘s Family Perfume, you should listen to both of them all the way through. I understand that you are likely a very busy person with a lot of things to do. BUT, if you actually take time out of your day to periodically read what some aging art-punk has to say about psych-rock and other forms of poorly recorded guitar music, you’re probably not an incredibly busy person. I’d also assume that you value the “full album experience” just as much as I do, even in the age of the iPod shuffle and the ability to easily click-and-drag everything but the best three songs right into the Recycle Bin.
Even if your preferred method of listening is to a whole LP at a time, Family Perfume can still be a lot to take in. Including CD-only bonus track “King of the Decade,” the record holds 29 songs and ambles along with a running time of almost 80½ minutes. It’s exploratory even in terms of psychedelic music. It’s unwieldy. It’s sprawling. It’s meandering to the point where it ends where it started and then spirals into dozens of kaleidoscopic directions. It’s enough to send any garage band worth their weight in salt back to the crypt.
But still. Being the complete sucker for sequencing I am, I couldn’t help but toy with an alternate tracklisting, one that could (barely) fit onto two sides of vinyl. Don’t think of this as me suggesting Family Perfume is too long. It is too long, but that’s kind of the point. That’s what makes the record one of the most ambitious longplayers (pun intended) garage music has seen in a pretty long while; its vastness is what makes it so compelling. Think of this as The Blueprint 2.1 if anybody involved with the release cared even the slightest bit about the double-album it sprang from. It’s not necessarily a better perfume, just a slightly different way to wear it.
1. “WF FP Intro”
Most people who listen to a lot of music will tell you that intros are generally silly and extraneous. I often agree with this, but not always. The intro to Family Perfume sets up a simple introduction (you can’t spell “intro” without it, after all) and then devolves into a series of seemingly random bleeps and bloops. It’s kind of like when you call a large corporate office building and you dial an extension that was long disconnected. In a way, this album is like that. It deals with relationships that have been terminated for years, pulling broken heartstrings out of the dark and dusting them off to try and figure out why things didn’t work out.
2. “Hey Roman Nose”
3. “It Will Never Be”
One of the most prevalent aspects of Tim Presley’s songwriting is how he blends seemingly stream-of-consciousness imagery with hyper-confessional admissions, like his songs are short letters to certain past lovers that have drifted out of his life. “Hey Roman Nose” and “It Will Never Be” are jaunty, peppy tunes augmented by gleefully amateurish (but incredibly trippy) arrangements– the latter with an organ line oscillating in the background, the former with what sounds like the “harmonica” preset on a $20 Casio. They are also highlighted with extremely personal messages for their intended parties. “I heard you had a baby,” Presley sings on “It Will Never Be,” “and you said you wished it was mine.” “Hey Roman Nose” reads like an email you’d send an ex after not speaking to them for two years, just to catch up, only with a very loaded question: “Do you still hate yourself?”
4. “Take Away Life’s Endless Take”
One of the few tunes on Family Perfume that sound like it could have come from White Fence’s considerably less hallucinogenic self-titled LP, it’s also a strong entry as far as songwriting is concerned, as Presley alluringly muses over his own isolation, remarking about how quiet things are with the windows closed, and the general frustration we all have with the city we live in. As Presley pleads for escape, we’re left to think about how life takes and takes and takes until there’s nothing left to grab.
5. “Balance Yr Heart”
Many people have compared Presley to John Lennon, but “Balance Yr Heart” sounds like the type of song Lennon would have written side-by-side with McCartney. There are of course the vocals, but also the art damage of Lennon as signified by random second-long clip at the song’s open. The bounciness and the bridge/coda of the song is pure 70’s McCartney. The drumming is even a little Ringo-ish.
6. “Hope Servitude I Have No”
With its upbeat folk guitar and finding a palace within himself, it clearly fit the theme of Is Growing Faith. When he says, “Praise the Lord in Heaven,” he immediately follows with, “Praise the Lord in me.” Self-actualization can be a very difficult process, but if you can believe there’s a lord inside of you, it’s likely you’re optimistic about your future hardships.
Starting off with a shuffle, “Tame” is a very… tame song. But then, after various teases of turning up the volume, the outro pulls it out, a thunderous spate of strumming comes along to uproot everything.
“Latchkeys” has a lot bubbling underneath its surface, many instruments play a few bars and make their exist. It evokes the same bright sun as a lot of California garage these days, and that’s not a big problem. Have a picnic at Golden Gate Park! Take shrooms in Haight-Ashbury! The world is your oyster!
9. “Swagger Vests in Double Moon”
Normally Family Perfume‘s opener, this dust-kicking, freewheeling tune often sounds like an old Chevy Pickup fishtailing all over the road, full of muscle and power but unable to drive in a straight line down the street. Sometimes, sparks even fly.
11. “I’d Sing”
Sometimes exploring outside of your autopilot genre can yield some interesting results. Presley is treating outlaw country with a reasonable amount of ironic distance, much like how Stephen Malkmus did in the middle years of Pavement. “Anna” is more playful, as Presley eyes a young girl (presumably in a saloon?), carrying “a hundred dollar bill in case things go [his] way.” And Presley even sound the part, due to some impressive pitch-shifting. “I’d Sing” sounds like a low-key, blue-collar anthem, especially when Presley sings, “I’d sing this song like Colossus / I’m ten feet tall.”
12. “Stomach Sexes”
Presley dresses someone down and things slowly starts to deteriorate in his own mind, his speech slurrier and less committal. That is, until the tempo change in the middle of the songs, which makes everything feel like it’s falling off the hinges. Then things snap back into place quickly, like the slow-down was not to be taken as externally as it was.
13. “Breathe Again”
“You’re light as air,” Presley sings, “or a cannonball.” An ode to someone who rides bikes in West Virginia (or, “West Virginny,” as I imagine Civil War troops from the Confederate side calling the state). He cries at the door. He speaks of loveseat builders. Presley is restless for some agent of change, but whether or not it actually comes remains to be seen, so Pressley sits on the porch and takes another swig of bourbon.
14. “It’s Confusing When You Wake Up”
Aside from psychedelic elementary school recorders ripping through a tender ballad and rendering it an art-damaged lullaby. It sounds like a rainforest bird with a Big Muff pedal shoved down its probably rare throat, and that’s one of the many things that make White Fence great. No accordions or hurdy gurdys here, folks.
15. “Do You Know Ida Know?”
Family Perfume Vol. 1‘s best song eschews the confessional format in favor of a stream-of-conscious love song, complete with pitch-shifted (and ambiguously female) vocals that sound a lot like Alien Mr. Burns. With incredibly weird pickup lines like, “Don’t you know that you are the only one who makes my back turn silver” and “Let me show to a place where we can mix blood together,” it sounds like a cuddle conversation between people who are extremely high on LSD.
In the midst of all of the disconnected assessments of past relationships, “Makers” feels like a sunrise monologue after a hard night. Presley recalls being late to a comedy show, and stares into the many mirrors in his mind. It’s laconic and ghostly, but it’s a very striking song.
17. “Be at Home”
Over a looped refrain of the song’s titles, Presley staggers in and slurs his way through some fascinating commentary. His knack for imagery has been in top shape on Family Perfume, but even if it’s just watching someone wash their underwear in the sink, the image stays in your mind. It’s kind of like going to a party and watching a drunk having a heartfelt talk with himself on the couch. Almost as if it got caught in the tape machine, the end of the song slows down and changes pitches because of it while two distant forces have a lazer fight right on top of everything, once again showing Presley’s proclivity for art damage.
18. “A Good Night”
There’s a formal goodbye in the undercurrent of this song; it sounds like a man about to go somewhere for a very long time. He addresses people he’s lost touch with (“I apologize for friendships I’d left in the trees”) and pleads for “no more blurry photos of the sky.” It seems like Presley is looking at that sky, either not sure of where he’s going or dead certain that heaven is above those clouds. If Presley’s lyrics are the goodbye letter written in the middle of the night, the music exists for it to be read by whoever my find it the next morning. The song hops around slovenly and ends abruptly. There are a lot of things in life that are capped with an abrupt ending. But as one thing ends, another will begin, and soon enough, that thing will end, too.