4 out of 5
Label: Rodriguez Lopez Productions
Produced by: Deantoni Parks
As it appeared on Omar Rodríguez-López’s label, and the marketing material for Deantoni Parks’ debut Touch But Don’t Look were keen to mention that he was (for a time) Mars Volta’s drummer – that was the association I made for the artist, and assumed I’d be hearing a side project. Passingly interested in Volta’s music, though not necessarily the band, I was intrigued; however, “side projects,” even by incredibly talented people, tend to always sound just like they sound: something on the side. Part showy – Look what I can do on my own! – and then also generally lacking in cohesion, there can be some awesome moments, but they tend not to resolve into a play-it-again whole.
But Parks’ album didn’t fit those assumptions. It’s certainly percussion focused, with every track built around a notable beat (whether “live” or electronic sounding), but it’s not structured around show pieces – it might not even have a single solo. And the sequencing of the tracks is actually quite cohesive, and immersive… up to a point about midway through, when Parks maybe loses the thread a bit and just starts offering songs in different modes (a funky one; a rocky one), but even then, the song craft quality never dips.
It doesn’t take much more then a simple wiki lookup to understand that Parks is way more than Mars Volta, and has done his time as a session dude and cowriter in all walks of drumming life. This “debut” comes very far along in his career, and while I don’t mean to suggest the ‘side projects’ are never all that great, the realization that this isn’t, really, such a project does somewhat support why it’s such a well-realized album – it’s the culmination of years of experience, and it just so happened that he was working with Volta at the time, checking off another box in his influences and inspirations.
Touch But Don’t Look is a moody and jittery affair, definitely with its focus on head-bobbing beats first and foremost, but with an eye on progress, and permutations, and flow – beats are established but morph; songs have bridges and verse / chorus / verse type structures. Parks varies the mood and style, but also keeps things linked such that that mood transitions well to the next one. It’s after the driving Dickie Newman that Parks releases such tight control on things, delivering the appropriately titled woozy and breezy Let’s Go Hazy, then circling through stylistic shifts for a couple of tracks, perhaps experimenting more than anything, but still maintaining killer core rhythms and grooves.
A very promising way to kick things off, and opened the door to further interesting albums to come.