It’s hard to believe the youthful, bright-eyed visage that adorns I Declare Nothing‘s sleeve belongs to Tess Parks. On voice alone you’d imagine her to appear somewhat, well, different. Y’know, more like a less well-preserved Keef Richards who’d spent the last few decades living in a dumpster, dressed in dishevelled rags and surviving solely on a diet of Meths, raw potatoes and recovered cigarette butts. Her voice is extraordinary. If you leave I Declare Nothing with one abiding memory it will be “Tess Parks has quite the voice”.
Sadly, Parks’ spectral strains are probably the most memorable part of her hookup with Brian Jonestown Massacre’s sitar swinging Svengali Anton “Keep Music Evil” Newcombe. The arrangements stick steadfast and true to the classic ’67 BJM style of hazily strummed acoustics, thousand-yard stares, trance-y tambourines and the odd flute. There’s some kitschy Mellotrons and sci-fi sparkle, too, but little to snap you out of the heavy headed, “Hey, don’t Bogart that joint” slo-mo slump. “Sit back and relax / Enjoy a cocaine cat / Takes some time to get used to / But I know you’ll be alright”, Parks purrs during, er, “Cocaine Cat” as we slip down the rabbit hole. But within the thick, green dope fog it’s hard to make much sense of Park’s gravelly drawl, “I found a piece of paradise and I… wanted to spread it all aroooound” she rasps on the ghoulish, Ed Wood B-Movie spooker “October 2nd”. It’d sound like a more generous offer perhaps were it not delivered in the supernatural tones of the freshly embalmed.
Elsewhere, Parks briefly resembles a slurring alcoholic auntie offering advice on “German Tangerine” (“Find a love and treat ’em nice”) before drifting full on into the arena of the unwell for the album’s more “after midnight” second half. “I feel very small…I wish I was a baby again”. By the time of the baked stagger, fall and crawl of “Voyage de L’ame”, “Oh Mama” and “Friendlies”, you’ll feel like slapping it from its slumbers, tearing open the curtains, fixing some strong coffee and dialing an intervention.
There are some “high”lights (chortle). The flicker and flight of Newcombe’s electric guitar lines soar over the muddy bongwater with wild, unpredictable abandon and when he throws in the odd vocal appearance it feels like Jesus roaring into town on a Harley. The rumbling “Meliorist” is nearly a dancer and the cool “Gone” is almost hypnotically alluring enough to make you throw on some brown robes and go and live in its teepee. Overall, though, I Declare Nothing feels like a sleepwalking retreat back to the comfy confines of the commune which is especially disappointing considering how lush, vibrant and adventurous BJM’s own Musique de Film Imaginé was just a few months back. Good for a few hits then, but as an all-nighter, it’s an overdose. That voice though? Hell’s bells!