The Black Swans formed around the core of Jerry DeCicca on vocals and acoustic guitar and violinist/viola player Noel Sayre; the two employed a revolving cast of musicians for their various tours and recordings. Best known for low-key songs and cynical, sometimes humorous lyrics, they have toured the U.S. with acts such as Early Day Miners and Okkervil River.
Founding member Noel Sayre died of a heart attack after almost drowning in a pool accident in 2008 and his last recordings were present on the Black Swans' 2011 release "Don't Blame the Stars."
"Occasion for Song" is the first album the band has recorded without Sayre, and the overall theme of the album tells the story of DeCicca's path through the various stages of grief at the loss of his bandmate and friend. The album shares the same overall feeling of sadness and confusion that encompass Neil Young's "Harvest" and "After the Gold Rush," while DeCicca half-speaks his vocals, chronicling the events surrounding Sayre's death in songs like "Portsmouth, Ohio," describing his depression in "Bad Day," and glimpses of hope among the clouds with "Basket of Light."
Musically the album is classic Black Swans. The various musicians play their parts with a lot of space for the vocals to come through. Despite the sparse playing, the songs still have the same full sound that drove "Don't Blame the Stars" with the notable omission of Sayre's violin lines; that sonic space is filled in with lush and tasteful Hammond organ runs. I imagine that the decision to omit the violin from this album is DeCicca's way of choosing to carry on with the project without replacing his friend. That decision changes the sonic palette of the band but also shows that one can continue after a major loss without the overall feeling of something missing.
Just as any of us who have suffered a loss, the Black Swans have emerged from the feelings of absence and depression a little changed but with hope for the future.
"Occasion for Song" will be released on July 31, 2012 on Misra.