The Black Swans Words Are Stupid

[St. Ives; 2010]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: folk-rock from the existential capital of the world
Others: Tindersticks, Pinetop Seven, Leonard Cohen

Some people never get over the loss of a loved one, choosing to brood over the sudden change so completely that their bereavement ends up paralyzing them. Others take their pain and convert it into creativity, which is exactly what the remaining members of The Black Swans did after their violinist, Noel Sayre, died suddenly in a swimming pool in 2008.

Although the Columbus, OH-based Black Swans have suffered a great personal loss, they still manage to include Sayre’s work in their third, limited release album Words Are Stupid. After Sayre passed away, his band mates found a trove of unfinished work on his laptop and promptly decided to integrate snippets of it into Words. The outcome is a dark, brooding, and sadly meandering record that enjoys the occasional comparison to the king of brooding broodiness himself, Leonard Cohen, not to mention the distinct vocal similarity to Tindersticks’ own Stuart A. Staples. Lead singer Jerry DeCicca’s vocals are swimming in a deep ocean of sorrow, but he’s not necessarily ripping anyone off, no matter what comparisons are eligible.

Marked by DeCicca’s tuneless baritone, Words is at once a drowsy yet diverse record. The bulk of the album’s tracks contain oozingly slow, subtle chord shifts backed by sampled background noise (that is no doubt taken directly from Sayre’s laptop). During “Rooster,” DeCicca claims he’s “Gonna paint you a rooster/ Just to make you smile/ Red and yellow, orange and brown/ And it’ll never let you down,” while distracting (and perhaps a tad too literal) rooster crows chime in toward the end.

The depressive, gloomy tone of Words continues in “Funny Papers,” as DeCicca lyrically compares himself and others to, yep, newspaper funnies. He remarks that, unlike the always changing plot twists found in Garfield, Marmaduke, and The Wizard of Id, “We’re not in the funny papers/ Can’t you tell/ By the way we make each other cry/ Painful words/ In bubbles that never blow away/ They hang over our heads/ Like ink that never dries.”

A record that was created to demonstrate “how language lets us down,” Words’ profound sadness and deep drawling instruments make it highly intriguing, well-written, and contemplative. On an optimistic note, Words is most successful in creating new life in the afterlife.

Links: The Black Swans - St. Ives

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