Fog City and Fog City (Outro) create the effective entrance and exit points on I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk that both end in the mantra…
“There’s always a danger in leaving the past”
It’s easy to imagine that 2018 turning into 2019, and in amongst many other thoughts, music fans will ponder another new year without David Bowie. His loss still carving an unresolved hole in vast swathes of us. That huge sprawling influence that touched, coloured and shaped a huge chunk of rock music. Perhaps what was most interesting about his body of work as a whole was that he continually re-invented himself. Never afraid to experiment or even fail. The creative process was, throughout his career, a huge arc of trying out new things. The core of all this highlights the ‘artist’ bit in recording artist.
Light years from attempting to simply label Tim Presley as merely another Bowie copyist, this latest project I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk strikes me as someone on a similar artistic journey seemingly unafraid of continually trying new things. And Bowie’s early phase glam rock groove is just one of the ghosts that’s joyfully framed within the undulatingly odd beauty of the hour long stretch of this new album.
Presley’s early work as White Fence had for ages thrived under a heaving blanket of lo-fi soup. A heady blend of woozy tape warp and blistering late 60’s garage rock. Again, the sonic clarity that’s appeared in his most recent work (as half of Drinks with Cate Le Bon) and 2016’s The Wink under his own name is further developed here. This time, presented under the banner of Tim Presley’s White Fence – builds most of the album around the piano which is a new dimension to his world. In notes on the release, he reveals simply that there was a piano to hand as he started sketching out the initial ideas presented here.
Presley has a creative mind and clearly the visual appeal of the wireframe is something he’s under the spell of. Somehow a sense of visual art and graphics is apparent – the drawing under the painting, the initial sketch, the pencil marking the measurement before the beam is cut. The underlying structure is always a very good indicator of the final structure. And again, this suite of 14 tracks manifest themselves drawn in a vector or 0.1mm technical pencil rather than an old chewed up paintbrush or an unpredictably crumbling charcoal stick. Music presented as a skeleton but bursting with heart.
Even the sleeve gives the sense it’s part of some new mutant update of Microsoft Office. Another bunch of files under the apparent badge of corporate wankery. A signifier of the digital landscape to communicate something that may well be as fleeting and human as a kiss from Tim? PX?
The music itself is, on those terms, an undulating journey that twists and turns but ultimately whips the listener into some of the most affectingly beautiful passages of arranged sound I’ve heard in ages.
Presley has talked elsewhere of Larry’s Hawk symbolising some form of addiction and it’s clear much of the album deals with a skewed look into his mind. But this again, another blurring of everyday, filtered through the mind of a keen observer. It seems in his world, the overheard chat, odd marriages of language, and moments of subtle enlightenment all feed in to his babbling brook of mundane beauty.
The album starts with the ghostly title track, a wavering ambience that reveals the tiniest shard of strings. Within 50 seconds of its 5-minute duration, it’s already stunning. The ridiculousness of whatever Larry’s Hawk actually is – in a heartbeat, is as serious as your life. The chiming synth moves from a minimal spine into something reassembling an unavailable tone on a phoneline… you are alone in the music and it’s somehow 4am already.
So, the next track, Phone tinkles into the space like some comfortable familiar glam rocking piano with dry guitar licks… and then, tiny fragments of other elements roll around fleetingly in the background. The song seemingly moving between italic and bold versions of itself…
Lorelei is draped in a huge plastic synth cape. Its soft padded elements at odds with the fizzy degradation of his older work. Like a remix of his former self, it defines the deliberately lightweight synthetic nature of all the sounds to be genuine and ascendingly beautiful.
Loaded era Velvet Underground informs Neighbourhood Light with its gently controlled groove. I Can Dream You initially rolls in like a lullaby, perhaps even a simple piano ballad that feels like a bit of a flat spot, but it blossoms into a weirdly touching watery hymn.
The crunching entrance of Until You Walk is stunning. The interlocking keyboard and drums creating a hypnotic grid. Snatches of ‘someone pissed there’ and ‘formation blue – a shit tattoo’ and the non-story unfolds… wood blocks, shakers, wormholes. The whole thing breaks down and then we enter a zero-gravity zone. A box of oblique strategies, magnified sunbeams and crosshatching. Spacey guitar, strange backing vocals, a huge gallery of markers suggested and played out in your mind. The White Fence of old would have this whipped into a fuzzed squall but here, the underplayed intention is somehow just as oddly pleasing.
I Saw Snow Today floats in on a cloud of Kraftwerk’s Ananas Symphonie. A bouncing ghostly plotting of points. A drum padded Hawaiian heatwave about snow…
The whole album to this point has been an exhilarating hop scotching between pools of activity. And Forever Chained is where this fucking glorious new world fully animates itself. The piano is half ragtime, half Steve Reich the whole thing explodes like some early Roxy Music masterpiece complete with woo woo backing vocals and Eno joysticking over the whole thing. It’s absolutely spectacular.
Fog City (outro) rolls back in and this time its soft-focus textures pick out the airborne moisture. If the album was a film, by now the camera would pan back from Presley on the San Francisco street retreating upwards into the clouds. The revelatory electronic ping pong balls of Harm Reduction (A: Morning) feels like rain drops geometrically beading on the camera lens… like a full-on development of O Guardian A from the start of The Wink, this time as a bleeping tripping kaleidoscopic finale.
Again, the contrast and similarity of albums like Low or Another Green World were rock and electronic parts co-exist in this new space. Taken as a full 18 final minutes, Harm Reduction (A: Morning) and Harm Reduction (B: Street & Inside Mind) ends up in a neon world of Nobukazu Takemura’s Hoshi Noi Koe. A mechanical looped, pulsating tunnel the likes of which Presley hasn’t fully mapped out before.
The overall effect feels like the scope of I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk is a million miles from anything Presley has attempted before. Whilst it’s easy to imagine these last two tracks or the previous 12 as two separate projects, there is something hugely satisfying and disorientating about regarding the whole things as simply a huge undulating musical statement.
Larry’s Hawk clearly does need fed. I suppose like the human brain, the menu is clearly way more fluid than just the same thing every day. In line with Presley’s ever-growing body of work, this is another huge evolution and if this is indeed him addressing his demons, then more power to him.
The danger in leaving the past is not knowing the future. On this evidence – I see no danger.
I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk is out on 25th January, pre-order here or here