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The Black Heart Procession
Succumbing to the great Gen-X malaise that's defined the voice of indie rock for the past decade, Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel of Three Mile Pilot, San Diego's premier guitarless power trio, formed the Black Heart Procession to revel in overwrought themes of alienation and despair. But they manage to transcend pedestrian cliches on 2 -- the duo's impressive sophomore CD recently issued on Touch and Go -- by using unorthodox instruments (waterphone, Moog, clavinet, Wurlitzer piano) to set evocative, down-tempo moods, and by masterfully interweaving heart-wracked storytelling with deeply addictive melodies.

Dark and brooding, the essence of tunes like "Your Church Is Red" or "Gently Off the Edge" may echo Nick Cave's odes to hopelessness or Smog's obsessive melancholy, but without the big drama of the former and the self-absorbed confessionalism of the latter. Jenkins' unpretentious boy-next-door voice, faintly reminiscent of Michael Stipe's on the earliest R.E.M. records, lends significant credibility to his pleading romanticism on the bookend tracks "The Waiter No. 2" and "The Waiter No. 3" -- "If I'm so far from your heart, why do I feel it beat?" -- which turns a tidal wave on the album's overwhelming sense of existential gloom. It seems the Black Heart Procession ultimately finds that even in the bleakest of hours the chasm between lost souls is navigable after all.

-- Sam Prestianni

The Black Heart Procession performs on Tuesday, May 18, at 8:30 p.m. at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Texas), S.F. Maquiladora, Orso, and Cars Get Crushed open. Tickets are $7; call 621-4455.

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