It’s difficult not to let the band’s crooked smile and unsettling charm lure you in.
Alex Deller 2009-12-01
Dredged up from the murk where the sun rarely shines, enigmatic and temperamental indie types The Black Heart Procession have laid off the meds for long enough to put together their sixth (duh) album and first for new label Temporary Residence.
Anyone familiar with the band’s peculiar brand of wrist-slitting woe won’t be too shocked by what they find, but may well be pleasantly surprised to hear things edging back towards the minimal days of their first three albums after the underappreciated Amor Del Tropico of 2002 and the patchy-to-poor disappointment that was 2006’s The Spell.
At heart, though, the song largely remains the same, the band drifting through 13 unlucky tracks with a wounded grace that’s all minor-key piano motifs, skeletal guitar lines, distant, weatherworn vocals and an engagingly overblown sense of the melodramatic The brew is peppered with mysterious zither scrapes, doleful musical saw and the baritone plunk of a dusty upright bass. Immediate debts are owed to kindred acts Pinback and the recently-resuscitated Three Mile Pilot, but without too much trouble you can find the band doffing their broad-brimmed hat to Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. They’ve all got a gift for morbid yarn-spinning, and the ability to conjure life from clanking metallic knickknacks and dry old bones.
While the breathy huff and puff of The Wasteland and the understated pomp of All My Steps are well worth handing over your cold copper pennies to the carnival master for, it’s not all solid gold. The humourless Drugs labours its point to the brink of exhaustion, and the similarly dour Suicide comes off like some sort of strange Night-of-the-Hunter-gone-Tron disaster thanks to its stuttering blurts of static noise and cod-Carpenter affectations.
These lopsided moments aside, though, it’s difficult not to let the band’s crooked smile and unsettling charm lure you softly in. Their murderous visions and disarming fragility make for a gothic waltz that trails black streamers through hushed deathbed confessions and muttered tales of cloven hoofprints appearing in crisp morning snow, all while the gallows tree casts a crooked shadow over each and every plaintive note.