The Black Heart Procession is one of the most reliable brands in indie rock, year after year delivering full-length platters of Southern gothic romanticism and bulletproof songcraft. Even after a three-year silence, when the group reemerged last year with Six, the dirge picked up right where the previous albums left off. Because the duo of Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel have several other sterling outlets for purging their less-depressing compositions, including the recently revived Three Mile Pilot, you know what you’re going to get when you pick up one of BHP’s six full-lengths. The EPs, however, have often been a space for the band to indulge in some quiet experiments, such as their extended investigation into their own carnivalesque soundworld in 2000’s Fish the Holes in Frozen Lakes EP, the almost-industrial electronic textures and sampled voices on 2003’s Hearts and Tanks EP, and their proggy collaboration with Solbakken for the In the Fishtank series in 2004.
The Black Heart Procession’s newest EP, Blood Bunny/Black Rabbit, offers up 40 minutes of new songs and remixes, sequenced into a continuous mix to create an extended composition that lacks any of the atmospheric unity of a typical BHP album, though it contains a few exhilarating moments. While “Devotion” exemplifies one such moment — slow-burning and soul-inflected, with intriguingly passive-aggressive lyrics — the new songs are mostly inessential: “Blank Page” is a chugging, piano-led vamp whose only lyric is pretty apt (“So here we are/ With nothing to believe”), while “The Orchid” is a drifting piano sketch.
Remix albums have become commonplace in the indie rock world, but this is the first for BHP, and they took a conservative approach to most of the remixes, limiting the cast of remixers mostly to San Diego scene-mates such as Jamuel Saxon and… um… themselves, as in the two remixes by Mr. Tube, Pall Jenkins’ junkyard-funk side-project. Pall seems to have even re-recorded his own vocals as whispers for Mr. Tube’s moody, sub-Einstürzende Neubauten remix of Six’s already moody “Suicide.” Is it then a Mr. Tube vocal or a BHP vocal? Unfortunately, issues such as these are more interesting conceptually than musically, as are most of the EP’s remixes. These remixers often change the names of their source songs, obscuring the songs’ origins as remixes, and since many are remixed by the same people who recorded the originals, they seem more like revisions or slightly-modified drafts rather than the re-imaginings that we expect from a good remix. This change of context and author is not required for a good remix, but the remixes largely don’t even deliver sonically — most are very light remixes that drop out a few of of the instruments and up the atmosphere.
Lee “Scratch” Perry’s remix, however, is exceptional. Its post-human, rippling sequencers punctuated with yelps, growls, and screeches are very contemporary and forward-thinking, even for the restless Perry. As far as I can tell, “Wasteland,” the source song, has been completely abandoned, relegated only to an almost sarcastic 10-second snippet tacked on after Perry’s song. It’s by far the most interesting moment on the EP. Eluvium’s remix of “Drugs” is also quite successful, an opiate swoon that gives majesty and drama to the original. Interestingly, this song’s ending is mixed directly into the most traditional remix here, Saxon’s mix of the same song, which simply grafts generic digital percussion on the original and calls it a day. Here, we perhaps witness the band remixing the remixers, making Eluvium’s remix sound like it climaxes in a glitchy reprise of the same song, much as Lee Perry’s remix ended with a snippet of the song that he had displaced with his own composition.
As with past EPs, The Black Heart Procession hold their full-length albums up to a funhouse mirror but this time see a DJ. They trade in their trademark singing-saw for two turntables, albeit in a club lit not by a disco ball, but by a flickering noir streetlamp. The songs are lightly mixed into one another, as in a DJ set, but this doesn’t have much of an effect on the music: there is no attempt at beat-matching or the gracious modulations in mood and tempo of a good DJ mix, and the album’s sequence and selection of songs are hardly seamless. On this EP, the Black Heart Procession offer an admirable change in their songs’ contexts, but the virtue of their albums has always been their extended atmosphere. Blood Bunny/Black Rabbit is so discontinuous in terms of mood and tone that it fails to deliver on that expectation, but perhaps the biggest disappointment is the slightness of the new songs and the timidity of the remixes.