Brooklyn-based drummer Deantoni Parks is likely to be known to many readers for his stints as the The Mars Volta’s rhythmic engine, though he’s simultaneously been responsible for drumming duties for John Cale, Me’Shell Ndegeocello and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s band, in addition to his own Dark Angels duo in more recent years. Originally released back in 2012 on Rodriguez-Lopez’s eponymous label and now re-released on vinyl for the first time by Elite Records, ‘Touch But Don’t Look’ offers up Parks’ debut solo album, and sees him combining his live drumming with a sampler, synth and drum machine to create an electronics dominated collection that still feels more informed by his virtuosic avante-garde rock background than anything else.
Opening track ‘Eleven Eleven’ offers up a moody intro segue built around ominous minor-key synth pads, shuffling jazzy hi-hat patterns and fuzzed out bass chords, the cold landscapes almost suggesting a more swing-infused take on John Carpenter’s electronic movie scores. It isn’t long though before ‘Amsterdam By Foot’ arrives to drag things off into brighter and more dancefloor friendly territory as bouncy synth stabs and thick analogue bass tones wind themselves a backbone of mechanically precise live breakbeats, but while there’s certainly no shortage of shimmering electro-laced grooves, there’s a sense that Parks’ admittedly jawdropping drumming prowess doesn’t really get the space it deserves amidst what ends up being a fairly straightforward breaks track.
By contrast, ‘Rebel To Rebel’ sees his mathematically precise snare crashes and toms counterpointing a drilling drum-machine pattern in what’s easily one of the most spectacular man-machine fusions here as dark synths writhe and swell, before ‘Let’s Go Hazy’ offers up a surreal out-of-phase take on Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ – while all of the original elements seem to be in place (apart from the Purple One’s vocals), they’ve been shifted forwards and backwards in the arrangement slightly, resulting in an electro-funk excursion that’s both familiar and strangely alien at the same time.
Elsewhere, ‘Dead Confederate’ sees Park’s progressive rock background exerting perhaps its strongest influence here, as trailing guitars and keys wander against muscular math-rock drumming, the colossal sounding snare breaks adding a crushing edge that nicely counterpoints the noodling synth flourishes. While there’s occasionally an awkward balance here between Parks’ dancefloor centred explorations and his more avante-garde tendencies, on the whole ‘Touch But Don’t Look’ showcases his drumming skills in a more synthetic setting to impressive effect.