Nobody makes music like the Black Heart Procession. Like the aural equivalent of a David Lynch film—with all the darkness and mystery that description implies—The Black Heart Procession has been composing haunting melodies since Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel of Three Mile Pilot released their debut album, 1, in 1998. Still recording in their city of origin, San Diego, Calif. (San Diego? These guys should be from Prague…or perhaps the NeatherRealm), Black Heart recently teamed up with The Album Leaf's Matt Resovich and Jimmy LaValle and Modest Mouse's Joe Plummer to record its new album, The Spell.
The Spell follows—with a few collaborations and EPs in between—the wonderful Amore del Tropico. Possibly the most overlooked album of 2002, Amore del Tropico was a departure for the band, infusing its coffee shop sensibilities with a Latin influence and creating a concept album around a semi-cohesive narrative about the mysteries of love. Hence the David Lynch. It was also a departure simply because the first three albums, while excellent, can best be described as funeral music for indie rockers.
With The Spell, Black Heart goes back to its roots sonically, reverting back to the Nathaniel's spooky piano and Jenkins's imploring wail, which were the cornerstone of their first three albums, 1, 2, and Three. However, as they did with Amore, the band members infuse this earlier sound with something else. While Amore del Tropico had, as the name would imply, a definite Salsa influence, The Spell’s influence is rhythmic and hypnotic.
And if The Spell has a theme beyond its loose narrative, it's the post-9-11 realpolitik that Jenkins has cited in interviews as the main inspiration for the album. However, it is just as much about politics as Amore del Tropico was about an actual murder mystery, and the lyrics, like the album’s title, are just as much about BHP’s signature themes of love and sadness and death. The Spell could be just as much about propaganda as it could be about falling in love with a femme fatale. The album opener "Tangled," with it’s intertwining of piano, violin, and electric guitar, contains the lyrics, “Drawn into your web/ I’m tangled/ In your web” as the song’s chorus. In case that’s not subtle enough, track two, the titular track, contains hypnotic drumming and feedback, with Jenkins wailing “So please forgive me/ For this spell I am under/ I lose myself/ In this spell I am under,” and also, “We’re held by your gaze/ Lost in this state/ A potion, a delusion/ Something is brewin’” And those are just the first few tracks! The distinctions between the many subjects get blurred, much like the title would suggest, as the album progresses further on.
The Spell maintains the consistent sound of darkness and alienation of Black Heart’s previous efforts without being…um…alienating. If you want to have fun, in a depressing sort of way, try listening to each Black Heart Procession album in chronological order. There are tracks in The Spell that could just as easily be in the first album, yet the music, to the trained listener, never gets boring. It’s a testament to the genius of the band that it can maintain a singular sound, the sound of a requiem, and still bring the listener into a trance.