Album Review: The Black Swans, “Change!”

MP3: Shake

The Black Swans‘ Jerry DeCicca is never hesitant to divulge his inspirations – Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, Bert Jansch – hell the guy’s writing a book on Dylan. But as far as songwriters go he’s much more concerned with carving his own slice into the American experience, much more concerned with creating his own classic American enigma like Blood on the Tracks through tireless dedication to craft and execution, rather than learning how to do so through stoned replays of his favorite records. His seclusion from modernity and wholly original voice are what sets him apart. It might just take decades to decode such a puzzle.

With Change! DeCicca no longer walks in darkness, it’s not exactly a blinding beacon of light but it could be the first rays of sun peering in between the curtains of an apartment that contained a long night of wallowing. Change! is achingly beautiful in every way, wounded but resilient. There is still longing and desperation (and still some sex on the brain – see “Slide on Down”), but hope slowly boils in the fold.

That hope is hard to find but it’s there as “Shake” is as upbeat a song as DeCicca’s bound to write, swelling to a sarcastic refrain of “Good times have come again,” and ending in howls – for the first time the Black Swans sound generally happy in this uncomfortable grace. The immediate warm and fuzzy moment of the album comes with “3 Broken Words,” sustained by a floating guitar melody that might conjure images of Malkmus lost in the outskirts of Mammoth Cave.

Throughout Change! one thing is constant — the band’s deliberate pacing, used to capture every nuance, every subtle crevice in DeCicca’s voice, every weeping string bowed on Noel Sayre’s violin. Listening to Change! is a humbling experience, not because of its molasses crawl or the dour magnification of human emotion, but by almost moving in reverse even the most mundane things we take for granted become grand and thrilling. Is it too early to call DeCicca one of America’s finest songwriters?

The Black Swans celebrate their album release Friday, October 26 at Surly Girl Saloon. Bird and Flower are opening.