The Black Heart Procession - Biography
Operating from an ever-morphing web of collaborations, Black Heart Procession (sometimes known as Blackheart Procession) maintains at its creative core the pairing of guitarist/vocalist Pall Jenkins and multi-instrumentalist Tobias Nathaniel. Jenkins previously hailed from Sub Pop’s Ugly Casanova, and both were former members of the San Diego indie rock band, Three Mile Pilot. In 1997 the duo broke off and formed Black Heart Procession, and for the next decade-plus, made it their mission to skulk around in the darker corners of the human heart. Brooding melancholia and mortal doom inhabit the lyrical and aural landscapes of their gothic-themed love songs. A revolving cast of musicians has included percussionist Joe Plummer from Modest Mouse and The Magic Magicians, bassist Jimmy LaValle and violinist Matt Resovich, both from the band Album Leaf. If the subject matter of the resulting albums is unerringly dark, the sonic possibilities the band explores are equally diverse, ranging from stark ballads to lushly orchestrated torch songs and angsty waltzes with a bit of chanson française thrown in.
Prolific songwriters, Black Heart Procession released albums at a pretty decent clip, with the first three, titled by number, coming out in successive years: 1 (1998 Headhunter), 2 (1999 Touch and Go), and 3 (2000 Touch and Go). The gloomy, pain-soaked lyrics, the aching vocals and the haunting, theatrical soundscape of these records (Nick Cave-ian piano, dusty reverb, groaning organ and eerie effects) establish Jenkins and Nathaniel as the true purveyors of heartbreak and despair that they are. They branched out in 2002 with the fourth album, Amore del Tropico (2002 Touch and Go), which is heavier in places, with a tinge of Latin influence, but no less miserable. The songs have become more concise and articulate, with accomplished arrangements adding to an increasing sonic lushness, provided in part by the addition of Matt Resovich’s violin. Following in 2004, the band collaborated with Dutch band Solbakken on In the Fishtank Vol. 11 (2004 Konkurrent) in a loose but lavish contribution to the series.
With Resovich as a new band member and both Plummer and LaValle on board, the following release, The Spell (2006 Touch and Go) is the most coherent, accomplished and effective album to date. They recorded in their native San Diego, with the ensemble now sounding more like a proper band. It all crescendos here: the absolute and certain destructive power of love and the perils of the modern world, surrounded by a compellingly eerie soundtrack. It’s immediately apparent that the violin is going to be more of a feature here when the album opens with the yearning, lovely “Tangled.” All of the influences are perfectly meshed on The Spell, and whether it’s a deranged waltz like “The Letter,” or a Scott Waker-esque crooner like “The Replacement,” the songwriting has reached a new maturity, with each song hanging together but also occupying its own heart-in-your-mouth space.
In 2009 Black Heart Procession picked up where they started, in the vein of the trilogy. Their next album, Six (2009 Temporary Residence) another supremely accomplished effort, showcases the band’s singular brand of gothic, romantic condemnation. Tinges of spaghetti western and funereal gloom appear on tracks like “Heaven and Hell” and “Witching Stone,” but there’s also the signature, spooky lushness of arrangement in “Liar’s Ink” and “All My Steps.” Black Heart Procession also released a number of EPs and their songs appear on various compilations including If Only You Were Lonely — Lovesongs Laments and 21st Century Heartbreak (2004 Agenda). Let’s hope that Six is a foreshadowing to Seven and Eight, at least. Because if Jenkins, Nathaniel and Co. are willing to keep indulging their unwaveringly tormented themes of anguish and sorrow, using their vast array of influences and their eclectic sonic palette, then we’re willing to keep listening.