DAVID GRUBBS, The Spectrum Between (Drag City) When Gastr Del Sol melted down a few years ago, principals David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke were at the peak of their collaborative powers; the band's effervescent and tension-filled farewell disc Camofleur is testament to this. Grubbs had come from an art-punk background, cutting his teeth in lamented bands like Slint and Squirrel Bait, and he'd evolved into an aesthetic musician, a guy whose jittery, highly structured songs suggested the Dadaesque notion of pouring a cup of coffee into the pages of a poetry book. As a solo artist, he's either perfected this approach or become stuck in a rut; it's hard to tell which. But one thing's clear: The Spectrum Between works better as a piece of art than as a record album. His verses or choruses or whatever they are veer between lucidity and elusiveness, as when he mutters in his maddening monotone, "If you drop anchor/It will obey; meridians will/Array themselves; More or less as you wish." In that song, "Whirlweek," a plucked guitar riff rings clear; isolated, it could be from a Windham Hill release rather than one on the reliably abstract Drag City. But then here, as on every song, Grubbs and his Chicago/European avant pals (including John McEntire and Mats Gustafsson) sprinkle in elaborate jazz quotes, rock tangents, and folk asides, as if this were a project bent on the deconstruction of pop. That's probably one unstated goal, and Grubbs succeeds on an academic plane. Fine in and of itself, but he's capable of more, capable of writing and performing a song like "Show Me How to Love," which begins with a John Fahey-like guitar interlude, then winds around a jaunty melody while examining romantic longing through a psychological prism—"Have you ever had an ex who spotted your next?" It's a succinct and poetic song, and while it doesn't have the obtuse sax solos that sneak into other tracks, it's an eloquent variation on the most basic of pop
styles—the love song.—Richard A. Martin
THE BLACK HEART PROCESSION, Three (Touch and Go) With a sinister moan blanketed in as sparse a backdrop as could possibly be mustered by a band featuring piano, pump organ, B3, drums, guitar, waterphone, clavinet, trumpet, bass, saw, sampling, and synths, the Black Heart Procession builds yet another monument to lost love on this third numerically titled album. In keeping with the San Diego duo's previous efforts, it's a brooding affair worthy of their black-hearted moniker. Electronic effects ominously breeze in and out of songs as if scripted by Edgar Allen Poe. Rhythms crawl, giving the drummer ample time in between beats to contemplate life's unfairness; even Tobias Nathaniel's piano tends to seem threatening and moody. While in a Tim Burton movie such funereal sounds could nicely accompany Johnny Depp's eyebrow movements, once linked to Pall Jenkins' unflinching vocals, the Black Heart Procession becomes an entirely different beast. His is not a great voice—the range is narrow, he employs the same handbag of tricks and tics on most every track—but it is expressive and true, whether he's yapping about blood-stained hands in the languorous "We Always Knew" or his favorite vital organ in the comparatively upbeat "A Heart Like Mine." Jenkins is best during "Guess I'll Forget You," when the goose perched in his throat gets slaughtered on the words, "Ooahhhhhhh try to forget you." The way things sound, that ain't gonna be so easy. —Jay Ruttenberg
The Black Heart Procession play Graceland Wednesday, Sept. 13.