Black Heart Procession; coming soon to a Butlins near you."
Black Heart Procession – The Spell
(touch & go records/Konkurrent)
Uh-oh, yet another bunch of intense musicians from the North American continent; but its not Canada this time, nope - incredibly its sunny California. Intense is the byword for this release; it's not one to listen to if you've had a bad day, I can tell you. Still, fasten your seat belts and grab your bottle of gin by the neck as its time for a sonic tour...
Tangled is a piano-driven swirling waltz into a pit of romantic doom, the singer fantasizing about someone very special "Tangled in my Heart/You will Stay"... The title track The Spell is a similar slab of downbeat yelling, albeit very prettily arranged and possessing a magnificent refrain near the end. Luckily The Spell as an LP does have some quite beautiful moments. Not Just Words is one such, a fabulously melodic track with a dreamy folksy sensibility about the arrangement which gives the song room to breathe. As with most Black Heart Procession songs it seems to be underpinned by some serious tub thumping in the drumming department (I remember the same thumping quality to Wolf Parade's release; I wonder if it is a Canuck thing?).
Just so as we are not deceived into thinking that the rest of the album experiences an emotional uplift, the following two tracks, The Letter and The Replacement are pretty heavy. The Letter begins with a treated violin (?) and piano, which soon opens out into a slow moving love song, one that could only be written on a park bench in autumn. The Replacement is a string-soaked lament boasting lyrics such as "As these visions lost/It was all deception/A witness I'm after you/The mission I'm on to you."
Return to Burn is even more slothful and morose; "Every chance I get/I am frozen in regret/Every day shows signs of rust/I watch the sky turn grey/ I am frozen". Somehow the song drags itself to a close.... GPS, by contrast is a very purposeful and up-tempo. Yes, the lyrical content is still pretty heavy, but at least there's a sense of urgency inherent in the track's dynamics. This dynamism doesn't last long; The Waiter # 5 drags us right back to the Gulag with a piano-led dirge (no it's not bad, I use the word dirge in it's proper context here) that is a very affecting piece of music.
So it's on to the last three songs in search of a little light relief perhaps? Well, Places doesn't provide that quality in spades, but it is an oddly uplifting track in that the piano lends a certain woozy charm to the arrangement. The Fix does throw off the shackles to some extent with some choppy guitar, though it does slow down quite often for some ponderous reflection. Still there is more air to breathe, a welcome change from the rarefied atmosphere all too often conjured up on The Spell. However, be warned! The last track on the LP, To Bring You Back is downright downbeat. With lines like "the days last so long" set over a back drop of pedal steel guitar, its pretty obvious to al and sundry that this ain't no disco. Oh well.
If I was being picky I'd say that The Spell is a little monochromatic overall. Dynamically the record never gets out of third gear, a shame as I feel it would have been a hell of a release given more light & shade. Still, it is an intriguing body of work, no doubt.
Black Heart Procession; coming soon to a Butlins near you.
Words: Richard Foster.