The Black Heart Procession


Monday, September 22, 2014
The Black Heart Procession – “Waiter #5” from Spell (2006, Touch & Go)


I came upon The Black Heart Procession purely by accident. In 1999 or so they opened for June of 44 on their national tour, and while I remember being bored and disappointed by June of 44’s set, The Black Heart Procession stole the show. Everything they did was fresh, from their name (which sounds contrived now, but at the time was brilliant), to their beards, to their use of saws and other hillbilly/circus-y unconventional instruments. I think it may have even been one of those deals where I didn’t catch their name until after their set, but I left the show with an LP.

The band sounds exactly like the deep longing and regret of an indie rocker from the Ozarks sitting atop a mountain in the middle of an icy night, thinking wistfully of everything he’s ever lost, and they never sound more like that than they do on the “Waiter” series of songs. Stretched across four albums and a rare tour-only EP, the seven installments of the “Waiter” series tell of a jilted lover, lost in the snow:

I have waited all these years beneath the snow / now I finally know it was you who buried me / I have waited for a spring that never came / you wont be coming back this is my home / this my grave

This sounds very much like an ending, if not for the series of songs, certainly for the titular character. In fact, there are two more installments.

The music is haunting and melancholy, with the ever-present rumbling of the wind, a reverbed plunking of the high keys on the piano, and the protagonist’s mournful voice (as interpreted by Pall Jenkins), and, yes, I think even a saw. What is uncanny to me as something of a failed Minnesotan transplant to Southern California is that The Black Heart Procession were from San Diego, that perennially beautiful city by the ocean in our nation’s extreme Southwest, a place where the temperature rarely dips below sixty degrees, yet these songs sound exactly like winter feels. I’m not sure how they know, but they nailed it.