The Black Swans
ex Brain has the queasy, melancholic appeal of sex with an ex-lover or old friend. The unswerving, this-bit-goes-here directness, for example. The album opens with Jerry DeCicca crooning, with the mumbling, heartfelt diction of Kurt Wagner, “I don’t want to fuck / I just want to spoon / I’m too sensitive of a man / To be any closer to you.” “I.D.W.2.F.”’s accordion and acoustic guitar theme is familiar terrain, neither inviting nor forbidding, which is perhaps another way of saying comfortable, at least until the, ahem, climactic intrusion of a depleted, exhausted electric guitar.
Then again, there’s the mournful deliciousness of consequence-free, sensual transgression. Over shadowy guitars, decaying in vibrato and reverb, DeCicca intones “Tequila, my friend / She pulled my pants down / And said she knows my girlfriend.” And I do mean “intones.” The only thing more funereal than DeCicca’s singing is the scratchy, naked sorrow of Noel Sayre’s violin, which sounds like something recorded at a wake in rural Armenia.
On “Your Hands,” the same violin has all the elegance and formality of a late-night country slow dance down south, but this particular slow dance is performed alone: “And as you’re with someone else / You’re still pleasing me / And your hands / Are better than mine / And your hands / Aren’t here at my side.” The incisive acuity of DeCicca’s self-observation is as bracing as it is discomfiting, making hip-hop’s sexual braggadocio and emo’s self-pitying sexual narcissism appear equally contrived and self-serving. Singing about what jerking off is really like, the miniature pleasure and small sadness of the little death, takes balls.
It’s hard to imagine the recording of the album, with its po-faced insistence on biologically explicit sexual realism and the deep insight that sex isn’t necessarily sexy, let alone live performance. DeCicca’s twenty minute engagement with his own hard-on is as powerful a conversation killer as the movie The Unbearable Lightness of Being, with its seriously unserious sex in bowler hats, or, well, a 20 minute hard-on. When DeCicca sings “Reach between my legs / Ripe are the fruits / You keep turning away,” well, I might have turned away too, embarrassed or snickering, I couldn’t say for sure.
It seems fortunate for all concerned that there are no girls in the band, at least not until the comparatively upbeat duet “My Lips,” which marries an R.E.M.-style jangle to Desire-era Dylan sentiment “Believe in love / Believe in fate / Believe in beauty / Never procreate.” It’s the sweetest hymn to non-reproductive sex since 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop.”
The album ends with a certain burden lifted, if only temporarily, but desire still coats DeCicca’s voice. A weight may have dissipated, but the sexual imperative is as omnipresent as ever—the pleasure of the album is only a brief respite from the demands of the Sex Brain.