Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe’s May-September Collaboration

Given how strong the last two major Brian Jonestown Massacre albums have been, and how successful was their 2014 summer tour of Europe, we weren’t at all surprised that Anton Newcombe would feature on our favorite album so far this summer.  That it’s not a BJM album, but a collaboration with a young singer and songwriter from Toronto named Tess Parks that has given the hard drive on our music machine a workout is something of a revelation.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, for Parks’ first album, Blood Hot, which came out in 2013, was superb, and seemed well steeped in BJM dynamics: dreamy guitar lines, songs constructed around repetition of verses, choruses, but few bridges.  (If you’d told me “Gates Of Broadway” was a Massacre recording, and as he did so successfully with Sarabeth Tucek, or Miranda Lee Richards, Newcombe simply was featuring a woman singing his songs, I’d have believed it.) Apparently, following the BJM 2014 tour, Anton invited Tess over to his place, and from the moment they met, a May-September collaboration was joined.  Since last fall, using YouTube as the distribution medium, we’ve been getting glimpses of their work together, and now that we have the whole album, it all makes perfect sense.  I Declare Nothing may be viewed as either a worthy one-off side project for both, or — and this is our hope — something to be repeated as often as Otis Redding and Carla Thomas making hits together.

This is the first album recorded in Newcombe’s Berlin studio, and it is sonically supple.  “Cocaine Cat,” the first official release, showcases a sound as rich as any BJM record, which is a high compliment.  Not every song is as strong as the opener, “Wehmet,” or as thrilling as “Melorist,” but this is a collection of songs so powerful that it renders laughable the complaints of critics in NME and Uncut who mewl piteously that “it just sounds like a BJM record.”  Um, yeah, that’s the highest compliment.

Parks sings all the songs, and we hear Anton’s voice on just a couple — his presence is felt on everything else.  Tess Parks’ voice generates comparisons to Hope Sandoval, and sometimes that’s justified.  Her singing is a little less enticing when she digs low for a gravelly bottom — when she’s trying to affect scratchiness, she sounds more like the teenage Alex Chilton growling his way through “Give Me A Ticket For An Airplane.”  But on “Mama,””Voyage De L’ame,” or a gorgeous, affecting song like “Friendlies,” which closes the album, the combination of Parks’ emotionally gripping voice, Anton Newcombe’s guitar strumming and the pace makes these as powerful as anything ever put down on a Mazzy Star record, never mind the Brian Jonestown Massacre.  Seriously.

This is a beautiful, magical collaboration, reinforcing our sense that Anton Newcombe’s genius hasn’t yet revealed his greatest work, and that Tess Parks will be beguiling us for years to come.

One Response to “Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe’s May-September Collaboration”

  1. […] The May-September collaboration between the Toronto-based singer Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe, the Berlin-based longtime leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, was even greater than we could have hoped for. Parks’ 2013 debut album, Blood Hot, already revealed her to be one of the many young artists who look to BJM the way Newcombe and his generation looked to the Velvet Underground, but what was remarkable here was how Newcombe stepped into the subordinate role, not merely letting Parks have the top billing, but letting her sing every song.  Maybe we shouldn’t been surprised, as going all the way back to “Anemone,” Anton has always loved to stepped back and let women sing the best melodies. With Anton in the role of bandleader and guitarist, this was an album that sunk deep into our bones, a smoky, noir-ish sound that clashed with the bright sunshine of the summer out West where we listened to it every day.  Most people got it, but we could only laugh at the British rock critters who sniffed, “Well, it’s good, but it sounds just like a Brian Jonestown Massacre record.”  Yep, that’s why we loved it. […]

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