The Black Heart Procession’s music has always produced readily identifiable imagery: being set adrift on the splintered piece off of a downed ship, leading a dirge of faceless lost souls, being soaked in the sullen weight of loss and its compounding factor of time — the band is a cheery bunch, no doubt. Images of pirates, hovering storm clouds and dark alleys populate your mind when listening to the Black Heart Procession; just check out the posters people make for the band’s shows. But then came the band’s fourth album, 2002’s Amore del Tropico. It was well received, but to me it missed the mark with its foray into the weird depths of cabaret and calypso. On its follow-up, The Spell, a return to the beautifully macabre is duly delivered.
Although it’s similar in style to the band’s first three, numerically named releases, The Spell transcends more-of-the-sameness with the strategic addition of some elements culled from Amore and a further honing of the band’s unmistakable sound. One of the more noticeable modifications is a more pronounced lead guitar than that on 1, 2 and 3. Amore stepped up the guitar sound but left it confused in the rubble of Caribbean nonsensicalness. Tobias Nathaniel stays away from any kind of solo noodling on The Spell, but his work really rises to the top on the three songs he plays guitar on: “GPS,” “The Fix” and the title track.
Frontman Pall Jenkins’s lyrical work has always seemed like an endless extrapolation on Slint’s classic song “Good Morning Captain.” On The Spell, that tradition of loss, paranoia, forgiveness and overwhelming despair drags on with an unwavering newness. We have treaded these grounds before; Jenkins makes you want to tread them once more. His most poignant moment comes amidst the spastic drum-rim hits and Nathaniel’s stabbing guitar work of “GPS,” the song that delivers this line: “All the things you fight/ are all the reasons to rise./ Would you believe when I say/ all these things hang by a thread?” If that sounds familiar, it might be because you recognize the sentiments from Radiohead’s “Optimistic,” each a reminder of life’s cruel, arbitrary nature.
The Black Heart Procession began nine years ago as a side-project for the since-dormant Three Mile Pilot, and its five-album catalog is now bolstered by perhaps the band’s finest and final release. Word was given recently of an impending Three Mile Pilot album due out in 2007. It’s not certain whether that will mark the end of the Procession, but if The Spell is the band’s closure, in grand fashion did it go.
‘The Spell’ e-card