Friday, August 25, 2006


the black heart procession - 'the spell'

released: may 8, 2006
touch & go

songs: 1. tangled 2. the spell 3. not just words 4. the letter 5. the replacement 6. return to burn 7. gps 8. the waiter #5 9. places 10. the fix 11. to bring you back

Even for indie rock standards, The Black Heart Procession are very unusual. Ever since their mysteriously-titled (just numbers) first albums they have set themselves apart from the norm. Opearating within a very gloomy musical framework, their oddball concept albums have displayed labyrinthine songs that are a mixture of desolation, bitterness but also orchestration and cheeky sense of humour at the same time.

With a clear side-stepping evolution process so far, never really rehashing ideas while still maintaining a clear band identity, there was some curiosity to see what they would come up with to follow up the eerily latin-tinged 'Amore Del Tropico', after a worrying silence of four years. In another side-step, they have opted to do slightly more straightforward songs, without so many orchestral meanderings, bringing to mind some Richard Buckner in style. Which is a challenge - those passages, while still present here, don't help so much with the typically gloomy atmosphere as before, a role that is left mainly to the vocals and the fantastic string arrangements. It must be said that The Black Heart Procession use strings like no other band these days. Their wide range of instrumentation used sets each song in its own creepy world - be it the gypsy-feeling 'Not Just Words', the near-metal rumbling of 'Return To Burn' or the warped cabaret of 'The Waiter #5', a sort of serious version of the bar scene in Tim Burton's 'Corpse Bride'.

Paul Jenkins' vocals complete the package fittingly. Jenkins' sobbing, fragile but constant voice is the perfect topping for these hymns of sadness. The cryptic, sparse, sombre lyrics, full of imagery (the cold wind, the bones) and literary references have become a staple in The Black Heart Procession music, and Jenkins is similarly inspired here.

Overall, Nick Cave might be the closest reference point, mixed conceptual-wise with Tom Waits and musical-wise with Danny Elfman's soundtracks. The linearity of the concept is again very present, so the album might not make all that much sense, or have the same impact, when taken individually.

The Black Heart Procession are one of the most interesting and musically rich bands in indie rock circles, and this album is a creepy journey that fans of all genres should not miss.

the good: very atmospheric, fantastic string arrangements, genuinely creepy
the bad: yet another story-like album that's hard to take in individual songs

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