cover Tess Parks And Those Who Were Seen Dancing

Tess Parks – And Those Who Were Seen Dancing (Fuzz Club)

Wrapped in good vibes and mellow, sentimental magic, it’s hard to pinpoint the hypnotic effect of And Those Who Were Seen Dancing, Tess Parks’ long-awaited second solo album. It arrives eight years after debut, Blood Hot (on Alan McGee’s 359 label) and while her 2015 and 2018 collaborations with Anton Newcombe perhaps put that album in the shade, Parks definitely sets that straight here.

Parks calls this collection of songs a ‘hopscotch’. It’s true that they flit and skip across time, versions of tracks that have been played live before, some over a decade ago. The album also took a while to come together, recorded off and on with friends and family between 2019 and 2021 in London, Toronto and LA. At times, Parks says she was discouraged to finish it, particularly after an injury that stopped her playing piano or guitar for months. She turned to painting for a while, stopped listening to music and almost separated from her sense of identity as a musician. But then ultimately, something shifted. Signs from the universe that it needed to be done. “I really had to convince myself again that it’s important to just share whatever good we can” Parks says, “having faith in ourselves to know that our lights can shine on and on through other people and for other people.” With that context, you might expect an album of introspective labours-of-love, or something much darker and bruised than the songs we hear on And Those Who… But no.

‘WOW’ opens things up gently with a Tibetan sound bowl (brushed by Parks’ mother) and the stirrings of rising dawn in the shape of a Melotron riff. When Parks’ calming, creaky drawl slides in, “Hey babe I know / You’ve been working hard / Let’s take a holiday, just you and me”, you sense this is going to be something special. A private person who has sometimes come across as a bit aloof and distant, Parks sounds more connected and there is now a renewed, personal feel to the songs here. Her father plays her grandfather’s piano throughout, and there are other, veiled references to meaningful places and people. “Ain’t that right / You gotta plant them seeds and watch ’em grow”, she sings on the uplifting devotional-style outro to ‘Good Morning Glory’, the song and lyric perhaps a sly nod to Oasis, who Parks credits as making her want to pick up a guitar as a kid.

Elsewhere, we get snippets of different styles as she experiments with the tensions of wrestling with music both as a source of inspiration and of resentment. These manifest in gritty, earthy ways as on ‘Happy Birthday Forever’, a song written in the noughties while Parks was living in the Elephant & Castle, which bounces Screamadelica-era Primal Scream riffs of the jail walls, as Parks croaks “Get Me Outta Here”. ‘Brexit at Tiffanys’ is a surreal, cool, meandering vocal fry epic; a chewy list of words turned into modern beat poetry. Spiritual themes are also explored, for example the insistent synth and breakbeat platform on ‘I See Angels’ from which Parks casts her reverb-heavy vocal far into the abyss. The airy optimism of ‘We Are The Music Makers’ is grounded by Parks’ acoustic guitar and solid chord shifts, rather like Mazzy Star.  Closing track, ‘Saint Michael’ has the beautiful rumble of film noir piano and its rain samples wash away all negative thoughts to a skittering beat. “Merci beaucoup” Parks sings at the end, a heartfelt thanks to the saint who weighs our merits at judgement day.

The album title comes from the oft memed Nietzsche quote, “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. While 19th century perspectivist German philosophy, spiritualism and psychedelic drone-pop make for a curious cocktail, the quote perhaps points more to the power of human connection. It takes a while and a few listens for it to sink in, but the connecting theme shines through, with Parks paying tribute to the intimate, mutual understanding of those you love and trust. Those who get you through to the end. Those who also hear the music.

‘And Those Who Were Seen Dancing’ is released 20th May, via Fuzz Club.

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