Music

Black Heart Procession: Amore Del Tropico

Scott Thill

The Black Heart Procession

Amore Del Tropico

Label: Touch and Go
US Release Date: 2002-10-08
UK Release Date: 2002-10-21
Amazon
iTunes

Fans of the Black Heart Procession's usually downtempo, understated explorations of heartache and loss might stumble over Amore Del Tropico's first song, "Tropics of Love". A jaunty bossanova that sounds like it jumped right out of The Pink Panther's boho middle, "Tropics of Love" is a departure for a band that is doing its best to drive the last nail into conventional alternative rock's coffin. And if you know anything about the guys in the band, that would make perfect sense to you.

Pall Jenkins' other band, the amazing Three Mile Pilot, descended on the grunge phenomenon like an avenging angel with the release of 1992's Na Vucca Do Lupo and especially 1995's Chief Assassin to the Sinister, two albums that avoided that genre's reliance on guitar pyrotechnics by nearly eschewing the insturment altogether. It was an interesting experiment: although it lacked six-string guitar, Lupo was nevertheless filled to the brim with screaming passion. And Chief Assassin, the band's finest album (and Pall's favorite), reincorporated the instrument but mostly for atmospherics, using it sparingly to hammer its points and songs, such as the unforgettable "Inner Bishop", home. Plus, Zach Smith's mind-boggling bass work (which can also be found on his other project, Pinback) more than made up for the gaping void left behind by the band's refusal to capitulate to musical convention.

Although it's easier to find a fan of Carrot Top's movies than it is to find even an insider who can name all of Three Mile Pilot's albums (to say nothing about being able to find them in music stores), the band should not be forgotten or underestimated. Which is where the Black Heart Procession, who've now lapped Three Mile Pilot in the number of original releases, comes in. So since Pall -- as well as ex-Pilot and current Black Heart instrumentalist, Toby Nathaniel -- has insisted that the Procession is not a side project, I find it comforting to think of the band (as well as Zach's Pinback) as an extension of Three Mile's experimental spirit, components of a greater project maximizing the talents of all three San Diego musicians. Like a fan at a Black Heart show last Halloween told me, "You can take the Pixies out of Frank Black and Kim Deal, but you can't take either of them out of the Pixies. Same thing here."

In that sense, Black Heart's work stands alone as some of the more emotive (chamber) pop music laid down in recent years, and that's in the multiple sense of the term. Pall's lyrics have always taken heartbreak as their point of departure. In fact, he continually conflates the words "heart" and "crime" in his songs, and Amore Del Tropico continues that trend. With songs that sample his own personal lexicon of love -- using terms like "love", "crime", "stay", "broken", "road", "cry" and "disappeared" -- Amore Del Tropico is a jilted linguist's journey into his own heart of darkness.

Sure enough, most of its songs stick to the tried-and-true mellow musical structures Black Heart Procession has more or less made its totemic signature. Think Chris Isaak circa David Lynch's Wild at Heart phase, add some eerie instrumentation and you're there. "Broken World" is an ethereal floater featuring morose guitar plucking and a protagonist lamenting that feeling we all get when we find out from our lover that we are simply no longer useful. "Why I Stay" is a similarly lilting toe-tapper that lightly phrases its argument for why love just can never seem to get its shit together enough to work -- "And so the game is plagued / With the rituals we've made / I know we won't ever learn / The things they'll never change / This is why I stay but this is why I must go".

The album's most evocative dirge, "A Sign on the Road", is a convenient bookend to Black Heart's last album's best song, "The Sinking Road", and is similarly shot through with Nathaniel's creepy organs, seductive percussion and Pall's lyrical melancholia ("Did you not hear? / Nobody's comin' home"), as well as some poignant lap-steel guitar and atmospheric cello. It's a haunting tune, the kind some Black Heart Procession die-hards will turn to when the experimental nature of "Tropics of Love" -- or the upbeat rockers, like "Only One Way" or "Did You Wonder" -- rub them the wrong way.

But those fans would only be getting Amore Del Tropico's superficial gifts, and maybe missing the bigger picture, which is this: like Tom Waits' underrated Frank's Wild Years or Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Black Heart's latest is a concept album about someone driven to violence by his inability to belong or fit in. The disc features an insert poster foregrounding its protagonist, armed with a magnifying glass in front of his left eye, towering over his dead lover; there is even talk of an DVD verson of Amore's doomed narrative in the works. Taken as a concept, Black Heart's disc is -- ironically enough -- a lot of fun to listen to. What starts out as sometimes commonplace lyrics -- "This is you, and this me / No one understands" -- ends up as graphic shots of the narrator's fractured, fragmenting interior. This additional contextual dimension is Amore Del Tropico's coolest attribute (next to the angelic, staccato backing vocals on "A Cry For Love", that is).

So if you're a doomed romantic looking for mellow waters to wallow in as you consider how to pull yourself out of your malaise, the guys in Black Heart Procession will take good care of you. Because even though their thematics can seem heavy-handed at times, there is enough of a self-consciousness about them to suggest that they're having as much fun as trouble with their doomed love lives. It's not like they really want to die, or kill anyone for that matter: they're just comfortable exploring the black hearts that beat beneath our chests as we keep playing the games lovers play. Even if they'll end, as This Mortal Coil once said, in tears.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image