White Fence, now rebranded as Tim Presley’s White Fence for reasons that may only be clear to Presley’s ego, were providers of fine bursts of psychedelia played with the brash urgency of a garage combo on their early work. Since 2010, White Fence has released a number of albums, as well as collaborations with Ty Segall and under the moniker DRINKS with Cate le Bon. It is the work with the latter that seems to have had most impact on I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk. The DRINKS project took a side step for both le Bon and Presley into more reflective territory, away from the immediacy and sheer adrenaline rush of much of their earlier work. There was a knowing weirdness to their album Hippo Lite of 2018, a collection of songs which seemed invested with a need to get away from that which had gone before it. I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk was written whilst Presley was staying in the UK with le Bon. In a press release for the album, Presley states that it was the open and tranquil countryside of Staveley in the Lake District which informed much of the tone of the album. Staveley – so much to answer for.

For I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk Presley has, for the most part, dispensed with the raucous guitars which marked much of his earlier work. If you are unfamiliar with White Fence at this point then listen to ‘Swagger vets & Double moon’ from the album Family Perfume vol. 1 for a two and a half minute lesson on what their output consisted of. Keyboards are at the forefront of this album and this is something of an initial shock if you are expecting the same old same old from Presley. Very likely, this shift in tone was one of the reasons behind the slight name change, as there is a discernible difference not just in the instruments played but the level of production and the sentiments at play here. Presley seems more than aware of this and, somewhat self-referentially, on the track ‘Fog City’ he opines that “There’s always a danger in leaving the past,” although there is a more peaceful, contented aspect to the songs here when compared to some of his more frantic output. Presley was, for a short period, a member of The Fall (a fact that is almost certainly true of about 3% of current working musicians), and the ramshackle nature of Mark E Smith’s band always seemed to be an influence on White Fence, but maybe with hindsight this was more of an albatross around Presley’s neck.

There is a surprising sheen to the production here. ‘Phone’ has echoes of Todd Rundgren’s ‘We’ve Gotta Get You a Woman’, there is an early Roxy Music feel to ‘Neighbourhood Light’ (replete with extra vocal wobble a la Bryan Ferry), whilst a number of tracks bear resemblance to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. At the heart of the album, however, is a man seemingly growing in confidence in both his songwriting ability and his ability to channel vulnerability into his work. ‘I Can Dream You’, for instance, is about unrequited love and the extremes that the song’s protagonist will go to – “I’ll do your make-up” – in order to get the attentions of his affection. The song is set to a simple, almost naïve, piano melody, yet it is in the vocal delivery that Presley transcends this song above the mundane as he sounds broken, his voice on the brink of cracking. Revisiting the track on several occasions, however, changes the message of the track as many of the lyrics come across as seedy, voyeuristic and even menacing.

The album has a few peaks here and there, but also far too many troughs which point to an album lacking in cohesion. This is best illustrated by the frustrating and out of place last two tracks which are the longest couple of songs here. ‘Harm Reduction (A: Morning)’ and ‘Harm Reduction (B: Street and Inside Mind)’ are both minimalist arpeggiated keyboard pieces which, on their own, aren’t too bad, but they are just thrown on at the end here and so feel out of place. I have nothing against albums which offer several types of sonic soundscapes for the audience’s pleasure (Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats is one of the best albums ever and no two songs sound alike on that masterpiece), so maybe the criticism of including these tracks is more about the album’s sequencing, which lumps too many similar sounding tracks together rather than having the confidence to spread them out more.

I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk is something of a messy enigma. Gone are the lo-fi production values and the urgency of early White Fence material, replaced instead by songs that take their time to grow but often miss the target. There are some aural delights here, but also too many instantly forgettable tracks.