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Buy one of the following Black Heart Procession CDs from amazon.com:

'1' (1998)

'2' (1999)

'Three' (2000)

'Amore del Tropico' (2002)

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The Horse Did It: Black Heart Procession unspool a murder mystery on 'amore del tropico.'

Poison Pen

The Black Heart Procession flirts with murder mystery on its latest album, 'amore del tropico'

By Susan Moll

THOUGH fictitious Black Palm, Fla., is sensuously dubbed the Tropics of Love at the beginning of the Black Heart Procession's fourth album, amore del tropico (Touch and Go), it's not destined to stay that way for long. The nocturnal air is as steamy as the freshly spilled blood seeping into the ground, its owner the victim of a brutal crime of passion. The album centers around this murder--a classic whodunit rendered indie-rock style.

No one would ever call a Black Heart Procession love song conventional. Heartbreak lurks around most every corner, and happy endings are figments of the imagination. In the past, the band's lyrics left garish purple bruises; this time around, they land with the same force as the fatal knife blow: I know that you want to torture me. You blister in the sun; you bleed for everyone. We'll never meet again, not in this broken world.

"Everyone assumes that we're just like superdepressed, moping around, wearing all black, bummed at everything," complains multi-instrumentalist Toby Nathaniel. "It's actually kind of hard to be, because when you do this kind of stuff it gets it out of your system. I think I'd be way more depressed if I wasn't able to express this facet, get it out and play it every night and record it."

A tale of love turned tragic in a nondescript corner of the Sunshine State, amore del tropico is murder balladry with a tropical twist--think "The Girl From Ipanema" with a body count.

"We were thinking some of the imagery might be cool for the art--old noir pulps and stuff like that," Nathaniel recalls. "We wrote so many songs for this record. I think we maybe wrote 25 songs. A few of them ended up having a real tropical vibe to 'em, and we played with it a little."

After issuing its last full-length studio release, 2000's 3, the Black Heart Procession began experimenting with more elaborate song structures and arrangements, and the lavishly stylized amore del tropico furnished an ideal setting for the group. The haunting sparseness that figured so prominently in its past work was gradually filled in with intriguing textures, orchestral flourishes and dense instrumentation.

"At the same time that I think tropical, I think of collages and things like that," explains vocalist Pall Jenkins. "I always look at music as imagery. This whole record has kind of unraveled in a puzzle sort of way. We've been going by the guidance of the record more so than trying to guide the record somewhere."

Instead of heading northward to Seattle as they'd done with their previous efforts, Jenkins, Nathaniel and drummer/xylophonist Joe Plummer set up shop in their San Diego digs and corralled every local friend they could find. They supplemented Nathaniel's keyboards and bass and Jenkins' guitar and bowed saw with violins and cellos, lap steel and upright bass. They gave "Tropics of Love" its titillating spaghetti Western ambience, rendered the agonizing "Broken World" as a sensuous samba and sent "Why I Stay" ambling down a dusty Americana trail. Fraught with bloodcurdling lyrics, lurid drama and nail-biting suspense, amore del tropico delivers quite possibly the most riveting murder mystery you'll hear all year.

"I think if you look at some of the lyrics and the imagery and the whole murder-mystery thing, that's all pretty dark," Nathaniel muses. "But if you just listen to the music alone and don't listen to what's being said, it's definitely more lighthearted. I think the other records have their own themes, but it's way more vague, more abstract. It's more of a feeling, something that you can't really describe."

"We've had much darker days as a band as well," Jenkins says with a laugh. "Some of our earlier stuff is much more dark than what we're doing now. I just like exploring different emotions and feelings within music. I feel like we've achieved that on this record, for sure."

Case closed.


The Black Heart Procession performs Sunday (April 6) at 8pm at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St., San Francisco. Tickets are $13. (415.885.0750)


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From the March 27-April 2, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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