Ah, 1999. A pretty lousy year for music as I recall. I couldn't walk five feet on my campus without hearing the Dave Matthews Band (that's what I get for going to the whitest college in New England, I guess), the musical atrocities of Limp Bizkit were in full swing, and the success of bands like Creed was a harbinger of even greater horrors to come from the likes of Nickelback and Puddle of Mudd. Fortunately, although it wouldn't reach my ears until a few months ago, the Black Heart Procession provided a diamond in the rough with this classic release. In fact, if not for the virtually unlistenable "Blue Tears," we could be looking at a five-star album here.
It's tempting to call this fare "mood music," but the Black Heart Procession's work encompasses a much broader array of sounds and emotions than can be classified with such a simple term. The band's eerily minimal compositions, combined with Pall Jenkins's hauntingly poetic lyrics, could perhaps best be described as music for a rainy day right after your wife has left you and your dog has died. Perhaps most notable is their mix of instrumentation, which seems to change on every song. The band's bare-bones arrangements of piano, guitar, and drums are augmented by a variety of founds sounds ranging from saw to waterphone to trumpet to a ton of other things (more on that later).
The album is bookended by the complementary tracks "the waiter no. 2" and "the waiter no. 3," two impossibly dark numbers that conjure up images of middle-aged guys in low bars drinking whiskey and remembering their lost loves. "a light so dim" is a masterful epic, building from a subdued beginning to a symphony of clanging percussion and pained vocals. "Your Church is Red" takes some simple steel guitar work, throws in a few bizarre organ and sheetmetal (!) sounds and twists and distorts it all until it's a perfect complement to Pall's creepy imagery. A tear-jerker if ever there was one, to be sure. "when we reach the hill" is about four minutes of pure despair that makes brilliantly malevolent use of a Moog synthesizer, while "gently off the edge" perfectly captures the soul-crushing mood suggested by its title. "it's a crime i never told you about the diamonds in your eyes" is actually pretty catchy, as Pall wails more of his odd lyrics over some forceful rhythms courtesy of drummer Mario. "beneath the ground" is an eerily translucent, oppressively atmospheric tune that should not under any circumstances be combined with alcohol.
While I don't think I could assemble a whole CD collection of stuff like this, as I'm depressed enough much of the time as it is, "2" is still essential for those looking to add something beautifully depressing to their listening rotation. At any rate, it certainly beats the Norah Jones gayness that seems to find its way onto my stereo whenever my in-laws come over. Highly recommended.