Walter Schreifels is a musician, songwriter, record producer and native New Yorker. He is best known as founding member and main songwriter for New York hardcore legends Gorilla Biscuits, as well as post-hardcore originators Quicksand. He’s produced classic records for Title Fight, Hot Water Music and CIV, among others. After years living in Berlin he currently resides in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he is working on multiple projects, including a solo record to be released in early 2015. You can follow him on Twitter here.
In August 1990, five New York City teenagers were wrongfully convicted of assault and rape in a case that still haunts the city’s justice system. The convictions were based solely on coerced confessions, city politics and stoked-up racial paranoia. Not a trace of DNA evidence ever tied the defendants to the crime scene. The youths who were doomed to become men in prison became known through the media as “The Central Park Five” and served out their entire prison sentences for crimes they did not commit. The 16-year-old defendant Kharey Wise shouted at the prosecutor at his sentencing “You’re gonna pay for this. Jesus is gonna get you. You made this up.”
Which brings us to the new White Fence album For the Recently Found Innocent. I really love this title and not only for the Central Park Five’s sake but because it works for all kinds of relationships: you can be found innocent by your parents, your friends, your lover, your spouse, even by yourself. You can also be wrongfully imprisoned by any of them.
In our digital age of the future many music listeners sadly ignore or are simply not aware of cover artwork, but since For the Recently Found Innocent features a painting by the author and composer of all things White Fence, Tim Presley, it deserves a moment of reflection before pressing play. Like our justice system, Presley’s painting works in black-and-white, the heavy brush strokes create a sense of accelerating decay, like the peeling walls of a disused wing of Alcatraz. The subject, who appears to be Presley himself, is seen through what might be the small window of a solitary confinement cell or a CCTV screen, different angles from which we may safely view the guilty.
Having admired the scenery, we arrive at the first song, “The Recently Found.” The song begins mid-thought, as though the listener had accidentally walked into the wrong rehearsal room at some poignant moment of a song already in progress; you’d love to stay but realize that it’d be weird to sit down uninvited. This mix of intimacy and distance is a White Fence specialty.
As Presley’s reverb-drenched vocals float just above the surface of the swirling folk tune as he sings, “Don’t fall in the trap, wait for the virtue/You’ll get it, you’re a good person now.” There’s comfort in knowing that good people will eventually get their fair shake. Having nearly run its 1:05 course, “The Recently Found” dematerializes as mysteriously and abruptly as it appeared, as if the band you walked in on decided to skip the awkward introductions and platitudes, instead beaming away to materialize elsewhere.
Bands have been drawing on the psychedelic ’60s ever since albums like Sgt. Pepper’s and Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but with six solid full-length records in four years under their belt, White Fence reliably transcend the typical pastiche, as demonstrated by “Anger, Who Keeps You Under?” the kind of song that White Fence fans hope for and yet are still surprised by.
Here you may also notice a light touch of Ty Segall in the driving 4/4 floor tom rhythm, if you’re looking for it. Much has been made of Segall producing this record, and justifiably so. As their previous musical collaboration Hair (2012) successfully illustrates, Segall and Presley are like two peas in a psychedelic pod, yin and yang, Chang and Eng, Nicholson and Hopper… more importantly, Segal brought his eight-track machine to the party, four more than Presley usually records on, which is like turning White Fence up to 11.
In subtle ways the production is more focused than on previous White Fence records but this comes across more as part of a natural progression and partially a result of recording in a new atmosphere — a great producer allows things like that to happen.
“Like That” is the catchiest song on the record. Everyone who likes White Fence will like this song, but it has the potential of reaching even more people than that because it has a great hook. In a recent interview with Interview magazine (aka “the Crystal Ball of Pop Culture”) Presley confessed, without conceit, that he thinks “Like That” might be a hit, a difficult term to define these days. Does he mean a hit on Pitchfork? Yes, it’s very likely. The Billboard chart? Could be. Playing at halftime during the Super Bowl? Beer commercial? I’d like to live in that world and drink that beer but “Like That” is a hit because it subverts the collective madness that drives our society to chase “the good life” as advertised on TV with the simple joys of a sweeping melody, ripping leads and a charging backbeat. There is so much joy in this song, what else is there to pine for? When I hear this melody, guitar and beat, I don’t think about my iPhone — and that is subversive.
Shifting gears from Top of the Pops to the Summer of Love, “Wolf Gets Red Faced” opens with trademark panache as Presley shreds a tasteful classic of a guitar solo. As the music descends toward its haunting coda Presley sings, “She fought back a smile when I was on trial,” playing again with the idea of misplaced guilt and false charges. What does she know that the court doesn’t?
“Sandra (When the Earth Dies)” will never tell. Here, Presley lightens the mood, revisiting a couple of his favorite themes: the end of the world and girls with beautifully ordinary names. The Farfisa in the second half of the song lifts the already jaunty Mungo Jerry-like rhythm so that when Presley vamps “no fun” in the outro, it’s obvious that what he really means is “yes, fun.”
Speaking of fun, “The Light” gives Presley the opportunity to channel his inner hardcore kid (he was co-founder of SFHC heroes Nerve Agents). Like a sped-up reinvention of SSD’s “Glue” crossed with “More than Fashion” by DYS (which would be the hardcore equivalent of “Whole Lotta Love” and “War Pigs”), and with lyrics loaded with ransom note social commentary like “USA today, disappointed humans” the song is enough to start a riot on the Sunset Strip all over again.
Fittingly, For the Recently Found Innocent ends on the stomp of “Paranoid Bait,” a song that goes a long way towards explaining what’s wrong with the U.S. nowadays: living within the power structure of the .1%, which maintains its authority with the tacit approval of a fearful majority fed a steady diet of manufactured threats.
As bleak as things seem to be, there are occasional hopeful moments from which we can draw the strength to keep fighting. For example, this June the Central Park Five won their lawsuit against the city of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress, and were awarded a $40 million settlement. For the rest of us there’s For the Recently Found Innocent, which came out not long after the verdict. The timing was prescient.