Black Swans – Words Are Stupid

January 01, 1970

(St. Ives)


One of the most beautiful things about the Black Swans has
always been how Noel Sayre’s sweeping, swooning, sometimes folk and sometimes
classical violin has merged with partner Jerry DeCicca’s whispery folk blues. His
long, dreamy sustained notes gave Black Swans’ songs an extra dose of
otherworldly yearning. His country vamps flooded DeCicca’s mournful verses with
light. When Sayre died, tragically, in a drowning accident in 2008, it ended
not only a promising life and career, but also of the most interesting
partnerships in free folk.


Or, at least it will at some point. For this limited release
vinyl album, Noel Sayre is still a presence. When DeCicca and his band mates
began thinking about Words Are Stupid, about a year after Sayre passed
away, they searched through hard drives and 4-tracks for audio mementos. They
found some wonderful stuff. The high sweep of his violin defines opening cut
“Blurk,” winging out over the guitar strums and swinging back swallow-like over
shadowy pre-dawn landscapes. His tones are full of barely suppressed spirit and
expectation, nothing ghostly about them in the slightest. Later, “Black Swans
Tango” is built around an old tape of Sayre speak-singing to a tango drum
machine sample. Throughout the album, bits of Sayre’s violin, viola, guitar,
piano and kazoo glint through the songs. He’s gone, but still, in a weird way,
very much part of the band.


You can’t listen to Words Are Stupid without mourning
Sayre. His posthumous participation, in some ways, makes it worse, because you
can’t help remembering how glorious he was at full strength. Yet even so, it’s
heartening that some of Words Are Stupid‘s very best tracks are the ones
where Sayre left the least obvious mark. You can glimpse this band’s future, I
think, in cuts like “Language Tenor.” Here DeCicca’s voice flickers, Stuart
Staples-style, as huge Neil Young chords rain down from the rafters, and an enormous
murky electric guitar solo splits the song in two. It’s far louder, more
electric, more distorted than anything Black Swans have done in the past, but
absolutely makes sense within the context of their work.  


“Day at the Park
of Roses” is the other
stunner. It’s dark and ominous and shot through with spectral, electrified hiss.
A slow dive into cold water, its main question seems to be whether it’s better
to be wild like a coyote spotted at the edge of a park or tame and cared for
like a puppy nearby. Black Swans have always had a bit of the wild in their
sound, albeit arcing through carefully tended plots of folk, country and blues.
My guess is that they’ll continue this interesting, slightly feral course, even
without Sayre, and that while things could hardly get darker, they may turn a
little louder.    


Standout Tracks: “Language Tenor” “Day at the Park of Roses” JENNIFER KELLY


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