The Black Heart Procession has been producing challenging, dark indie rock for almost ten years now. Formed by members of the band Three Mile Pilot - who will also be releasing a new album sometime this year or next after an extended absence since 1998 - The Black Heart Procession have consistently released some of the moodiest sounding albums on record. Incorporating piano, violins (and other strings), and the occasional saw in addition to the normal guitar, bass, drums rock format, the band uses whatever instrumentation necessary to fashion their musical backdrop. By combining this instrumental palette with oddly enthralling melodies and harmonic vocal arrangements, The Black Heart Procession vividly creates narrative compositions (as evidenced by the full-length movie The Tropics of Love that solely utilized The Black Heart Procession album Amore del Tropico to provide the sound and develop the story instead of dialog) that often capture the imagination of the listener.
The Spell is the newest (and first in four years) full-length album from this San Diego based group. It is a powerful return to the forms and themes explored on their first three albums (entitled 1, 2, 3 respectively). This record is a tremendous collection of dark, brooding compositions that continually exploit a myriad of oddly catchy melodies.
"Tangled" is an exemplary choice to embark on the narrative of The Spell. It begins with a melancholy piano piece that is accompanied by strings until the percussion and organ join the mix that sets up a slow building tension. This ascendance is augmented by the baritone vocals of Pall Jenkins and almost eerily comforting guitars. The chorus only enhances the glum mood by not quite giving the grand climax that is expected when listening to it. "The Spell" immediately follows and only triumphs in trumping "Tangled" with on of, if not the, best songs that I have heard this year. The melody is top notch. The guitar tone has Morricone-like stylings and the song has a paradoxically stark yet, claustrophobic feel to it. The vocal harmonies provide the meat of the track with their brilliant juxtaposition. It is easily my favorite track on the album. "Not Just Words" is extremely successful in lightening the mood that the record had set thus far. It is a poppy song and is appropriately the first single off the LP. "The Letter" is magnificent. The melody is wholly entertaining. The song may arguably contain the best hook on The Spell. It affects a sense of longing and loss without the weepy undertones that doom many such songs.
"Return to Burn" has a haunting instrumental arrangement. The sounds that The Black Heart Procession uses to create it are all too fitting. The song is achingly slow and depressing, (this, strangely, is a good thing). "The Waiter No. 5" is a great "sad" song. The vocals are perfect in their reserved harmonic delivery. The piano back dropped by the atmospheric sounds and saw complete the songs somber mood. "Places" picks up the pace and the mood a bit. It evokes a feeling of resignation and feels like the soundtrack to moving on should. The instrumental arrangement for the track is excellent and bolstered by the delicious tone of the guitar. "To Bring You Back" closes The Spell. This song is dominated by the vocals and the pedal steel guitar. Its quiet manner lends to making it an appropriate choice to end the record.
The Spell succeeds where previous Black Heart Procession albums do not. It is both darkly depressing (in a comforting way) and easily accessible (dare I say almost poppy). The pacing is superb and is a credit to the excellent sequencing of the songs on the record. The band still proves their relevance and throws down the gauntlet for other indie bands to attempt to top. On a side note, for those vinyl fetishists out there, the LP version of this comes with a coupon to download the mp3's of this for free - if more bands do this, I will no longer be buying CD's.
9.0 / 10
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