The Black Swans know heartbreak firsthand. While the Ohio-based mope-rockers have always taken a decidedly sullen approach to things, the death of founding member and violin player Noel Sayre just before the Fourth of July in 2008 gave the band’s distressed songwriting something tangible to latch onto. Occasion For Song, the band’s fifth full-length album and first post-Sayre, is a heart-on-sleeve memorial to The Black Swans’ fallen bandmate. It’s also the band’s most shatteringly personal offering to date.
Sayre’s death glues the record’s nine tracks together, and the band isn’t shy about laying all that hurt on the table. Track by track, thoughts and musings on Sayre’s death loom, and the band’s hushed, delicate music, an effective hybrid of indie-folk, dream pop, and sadcore, is the perfect companion to the record’s bleak subject matter. Like Neil Young (a notable influence here) on classic ’70s albums like Zuma and Tonight’s The Night, The Black Swans prove here that even the bleakest of circumstances can build the foundation for some beautiful music.
Lyrically, frontman Jerry DeCicca’s words range from the cryptic and enigmatic to those with all the subtlety of a kick to the teeth, but either way there’s little escaping the matter at hand. From album opener “Basket of Light” (“It’s been a long while/ Since I’ve seen you smile/ I want to feel your warmth again”) to “Bound To Be” (“What do you do when the dark is too dark to see?”) to “Portsmouth, Ohio”, which lays much of Sayre’s tragic story bare (“Nobody’s supposed to die/ Three days before the Fourth of July/ Especially while the sun is still in the sky”), Occasion For Song is an open book. While many songwriters tuck their thoughts away in layers of allusion and metaphor, The Black Swans win here braving the misery head-on.
Essential Tracks: “Basket of Light”, “Portsmouth, Ohio”