A few weeks ago, I saw Tim Presley’s White Fence open for Ty Segall, merging with Segall and members of both bands for some Hair songs in-between. As White Fence took the stage after a long tune-up process, the crowd cheered, and Presley blinked with surprise. “That’s a first,” he said convincingly – funny words to hear from a “veteran,” or at least a man who’s been lauded as such since he pressed some vinyl with Segall earlier this year.
In comparisons between the two musicians, who definitely have a lot in common, Presley’s years and multiple projects (including Darker My Love, the Strange Boys, etc.) were called out as the great divide – this guy’s been around, he knows what he’s doing. By comparison, this Segall kid’s all elbows and youthful energy – antsy, erratic, more mash than mellow. Presley’s far more mature and balanced, more coolly confident in his approach to his music, more solidifed. After all, he’s older. But just cause Presley may have a few more gray hairs than his bleach-blonde brother in arms doesn’t mean he’s fully settled into a specific sound for his solo project. The guy doesn’t have a foot in inspiration’s grave – not even a toe. He’s still raging, bouncing between thoughts, ideas and sounds, though some of his Vol. 2 songs could go gently into (ahem) “A Good Night.”
Recorded at home, Presley’s Family Perfume is experimental and loose, stuffed with sounds from the madcap master bedroom. Vol. 2 has a more slowed-down, thematic tone than the first volume, but almost every track has an unexpected moment, a break in the bliss. Gorgeously crafted and rife with tiny details, the album matches the insular insanity of Syd Barrett (“Lizards First”) with the vague acoustic romance of Donovan (“It’s Confusing When You Wake Up”) and the wandering, psychedelic, though still bite-sized, narration of acid-era Beatles. As Presley says best in Vol. 2’s final track, “Sometimes the mirror is the decades gone.”
Family Perfume’s mirror is the introspective, unhinged and odd 60s-era psych-rock/folk, a patchwork quilt of “tiny purple fishes” imaginings and humble revelations. Not just interested in the sounds of the 60s, Family Perfume Vol. 2 builds off of the very personal perspective hidden in psychedelia’s past, delving into the brilliance in detachment, the sometimes-genius of the circling mind, the insights in insanity, divorced from the confines of a well-defined reality. “I have some important things to say to myself,” Presley writes as an introduction to Vol. 2. It’s this tint of the personal thought process that helps Presley’s Perfume transcend nostalgia, its own sudden turns and unique, if small, wisdoms making it compelling and relevant instead of retro.
In “I’d Sing,” Presley outlines his reasons for pursing those pretty lips, singing for his weakness, his triumph, and to “push a demon.” “But I get it wrong,” he concludes, stretching against his own dreams and limitations. Amidst the bump-a-long beat of “A Good Night,” Presley asks a string of questions: “Do you excuse your living? Do you excuse yourself? Do you excuse yourself too much?” Again, bouncing between two points, this time of self-forgiveness and self-indulgence or blindness. Aware of every internal tick, Tim Presley manages to articulate his own contradictions with a breezy, lightweight line or two, the measure of a poet. My favorite lines come together in Vol. 2‘s last and longest song, the beachy and languid “King of the Decade,” whose echoed lyrics seem to bounce off the walls of my ribcage, coming from within. “It takes so long to realize/ The healthy ones live long,” Presley sings, but later adds with revitalized oomph, “Cigarettes forever.” Aside from this hilarious re-tread, “King of the Decade” gives birth to the beautiful phrase: “The happiest you’ve ever been/ Hasn’t happened yet,” skewing a memory of the past towards a moment yet unknown.
In our own FM Stringer’s earlier review of the first volume of this epic 30-song collection, he quoted an epigram on Woodsist’s site, a few ALL CAPS words from Segall to set up Vol. 1. “Fuck nostalgia. Live the truth…FUCK THE TRUTH. FUCK ROCK AND ROLL. LOVE ROCK AND ROLL,” Segall writes, perfectly describing Presley’s contradictions that emerge from the most honest self-examination. Segall may seem the most obviously trapped in the middle thanks to his age, but Presely is similarly stuck and spitting, shaking the bars between reality and perception, between consistency and getting caught up in the moment. Family Perfume is a collection of undecided, experimental, rough and raging songs, disguised as a throwback trip by a modern “veteran.”
Presley certainly has some qualities of the all-knowing been-there, done-that. He’s careful, confident, prolific, and practiced. He has a vision. But he also has a knee-jerk obsession with music, evidenced by this overwhelming output, that jumps the line of sanity, that pulls the polish off of his pearls. “When people talk to me, I’m thinking about some song to do,” Presley writes for Vol. 2’s epigram. And the songs he thinks up are somehow both resonate and impossible to anticipate — old and new at once.