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Black Heart Procession

Black Heart Procession

Rock group

Film-noir soundtracks, Brazilian tropicália, dark country dirges, and piano heavy post-rock are just some of the genres touched upon by San Diego band Black Heart Procession. Functioning as more of a collective of musicians culled from other projects than with a set lineup, the Black Heart Procession make dark and moody pop that lies somewhere between Nick Cave and the Badseeds and Ennio Morricone. With five albums under their belts, core members Pall A. Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel—along with a revolving cast of contributors—were able to distance themselves from the slightly more hardcore and punk leaning sounds coming out of San Diego, and in the process solidify themselves as leaders of the city's scene.

Before Jenkins and Nathaniel laid the groundwork for what would become Black Heart Procession, both played in the underrated and oftentimes challenging Three Mile Pilot. Vocalist Jenkins, bassist Armistead Burwell Smith IV, and drummer Tom Zinser formed the band in San Diego in 1991, and cooked up bass-driven compositions that rode a fine line between Pixiesesque pop and progressive rock. The band released three albums over their seven-year career, briefly signing with major label Geffen Records, who released The Chief Assassin to the Sinister in 1995. Near the middle of the project, the band evolved, when Jenkins started playing guitar. They also added pianist Nathaniel, who provided the band with a more sinister edge. The band went on hiatus, however, when all four members started playing with other projects. Smith and Zinser would eventually move on to form the band Pinback with Heavy Vegetable and Thingy guitarist Rob Crowe.

In 1997, while Three Mile Pilot was still completely active, Jenkins and Nathaniel decided to start another band that explored their darker side, with more elaborate instrumentation and no adherence to a specific genre. They also wanted to function without a set live lineup, with Jenkins and Nathaniel being the only sole "full time" members of the band. By picking and choosing friends from around San Diego to collaborate with on stage, the music made by Black Heart Procession could remain fresh. The first recorded incarnation of the band, however, only included drummer Mario Rubalcaba (a former member of San Diego noise punks Clikitat Ikatowi), and added vocals from singer Jen Wood. Jenkins and Nathaniel provided much of the extra instrumentation, adding unlikely instruments like saw, waterphone and xylophone to the already established mix of piano, organ, guitar, bass, and vocals.

The lush and brooding music of Black Heart Procession was first heard via Cargo Records, who released their debut 1 in 1998. In a review posted on All Music Guide, writer Ned Raggett said, "Pitched somewhere between the darker, quieter moments of European or European-based performers like Jacques Brel and Scott Walker and the haunting hush of more recent American acts like the For Carnation, 1 wraps itself in a lovely melancholia that avoids self-pity for deliberate reflection and consideration."

In May of 1999, the band struck again with another album of haunting dirges, this time with trumpeter Jason Crane and again drummer Rubalcaba backing up Jenkins and Nathaniel. Chicago's Touch & Go Records picked up the band and released 2, their second album, to a much wider audience than Cargo Records could provide. For the record, the band again piled on the instruments, with Jenkins and Nathaniel playing everything from a Moog synthesizer to clavinet, pump organ and even sheet metal. By this time, the band had made a name for themselves as being somewhat challenging, letting their down-tempo rock slowly unfold rather than cut to the chase and supply an endless amount of hooks. A review by Jeff Marsh for Delusions of Adequacy hearkened this statement, saying, "[2] is full of unique noises that are all put together to, surprisingly, make coherent music that, after about the 15th listen, really grows on you."

Proving how prolific they were, Black Heart Procession released their third album in 2000 for Touch & Go, appropriately titled Three. The instrument swapping and experimentation continued on the album, with Nathaniel taking a stab at the drums on most of the recordings, with help from Crane (who drummed on "Guess I'll Forget You" and "Never From this Heart") and Rubalcaba (who drummed on "A Heart Like Mine"). The band again explored a dark and treacherous territory on Three; something the band were forced to explain in interviews. Jenkins told Emmiemagazine.com, "I like the idea of creating emotion and moods, and I think that's just how I've come at music and it's how it affects people and how it affects me when I'm playing it. Sometimes we do things that are really far into this dark or sad thing, but it's not a fashion statement. We're not these gothic, dark people. We may push the dark side with our music, but we like to write other sides too, and I think people who like our music see the different angles that we go at. I'm pretty confident in saying we're doing our own thing."

For The Record …

Members include Pall A. Jenkins, singer; Tobias Nathaniel, multi-instrumentalist. Other recording and performing members have included Jim Austin, upright bass; Jason Crane, trumpet; Charles Curtis, cello; Jimmy Lavalle, piano; Matt Parker, bass; Joe Plummer, drums; Matt Resovich, violin; Joyce Rooks, cello; Mario Rubalcaba, drums; Jen Wood, vocals; Paulo Zappoli, multiple instruments.

Group formed in San Diego, CA, from previous group Three Mile Pilot, 1997; released 1 on Cargo, 1998; released 2 on Touch & Go, 1999; released Three on Touch & Go, 2000; changed style and released Amore del Tropico, 2002; released vinyl for In the Fishtank record series on Konkurrent label, 2004; released acclaimed The Spell, 2006.

Addresses: Record company—Touch & Go Records, P.O. Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625, website: http://www.tgrec.com. Website—Black Heart Procession Official Website: http://www.blackheartprocession.com. Email[email protected]

In 2001, the band decided to re-evaluate their approach, retooling their sound into one that incorporated Brazilian tropicália, cabaret, and calypso. In October of 2002, the band released Amore del Tropico on Touch & Go, and introduced their growing fan base to a host of new collaborators. Instead of the regular core of Nathaniel, Jenkins, Crane and Rubalcaba, Amore del Tropico featured contributions from upright bassist Jim Austin, cellists Joyce Rooks and Charles Curtis, violinist Matt Resovich, bassist Matt Parker, multi-instrumentalist Paulo Zappoli, and new drummer Joe Plummer (of the Magic Magicians and Modest Mouse), amongst countless other guests. The colorful lineup of musicians added to Amore del Tropico's eclectic feel, and the album proved to be the band's most successful yet, detailing a David Lynch-ian story of love, crime and deceit. In a 7.9-rated review on Pitchforkmedia.com, Ryan Kearney said, "With this record, the band has taken a risky, ambitious leap forward."

After the release of Amore del Tropico, the band toured minimally in support of their love-and-murder drenched album over the next year, and they didn't appear on wax again until 2004's collaboration with Dutch prog-rock band Solbakken, for Konkurrent Record's In the Fishtank series. That same year, Jenkins and collaborator Matthew Hoyt wrote, directed, and edited a film entitled The Tropics of Love—a "silent" movie that was meant to function as a companion piece to Amore del Tropico, that stared and was sound-tracked by the band.

Fans of The Black Heart Procession would have to wait four years, however, until a fully realized new album was released. Finally, in May of 2006, the band reappeared from their slumber, and released The Spell on Touch & Go. For this album, unlike previous works, the band wrote and recorded the songs as a cohesive unit, instead of Jenkins and Nathaniel adding musicians throughout the recording process. With Plummer again on drums, Resovich became a full-time member, and provided violin, Wurlitzer, synth and lapsteel to the album. Another creative mind, that of Jimmy LaValle (former member of the Locust and Tristeza, who also released records under the name The Album Leaf) added piano, bass and organ to the sessions. The band also decided to build a studio in Jenkins' new home, as he had since married and moved to Portland. It seemed as if their new self-sufficient technique worked, as positive reviews of The Spell poured in. Giving the album a rating of 8.0, Pitchforkmedia.com said, "The Spell is Black Heart Procession's best album."

Selected discography

1, Cargo, 1998.
2, Touch & Go, 1999.
Three, Touch & Go, 2000.
Amore del Tropico, Touch & Go, 2002.
In the Fishtank (12″ vinyl), Konkurrent, 2004.
The Spell, Touch & Go, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Chart Magazine, May 2006.

Online

"Black Heart Procession," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 18, 2006).

"Black Heart Procession," Touch & Go Records, http://www.tgrec.com/bands/band.php?id=2 (June 15, 2006).

"Black Heart Procession: 2," Delusions of Adequacy, http://www.adequacy.net/review.php?reviewID=479 (June 15, 2006).

"Black Heart Procession: Three," Fakejazz.com, http://www.fakejazz.com/reviews/blackheart3.shtml (June 19, 2006).

"DiS Meets Black Heart Procession," Drowned in Sound, http://www.drownedinsound.com/content/view/843297 (June 18, 2006).

"Film: The Tropics of Love," Ink 19, http://www.ink19.com/issues/april2004/screenReviews/tropicsOfLove.html (June 17, 2006).

"Interview with Black Heart Procession," Emmie Magazine, http://www.emmiemagazine.com/articles/160.html (June 18, 2006).

"Review: Amore del Tropico," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/15497/Black_Heart_Procession_Amore_del_Tropico (June 18, 2006).

"Review: The Spell," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/36541/The_Black_Heart_Procession_The_Spell (June 18, 2006).

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