The Black Swans’ Who Will Walk in the Darkness with You? is a heartbreaking and beautiful debut from this promising new band. They are a band hard to classify, although I can see them being lumped into any form of generic “country” genre, sitting awkwardly alongside artists whom they share nothing in common with. The Black Swans certainly have many traditional country elements to their sound, and they are signed to Delmore Recording Society, a Nashville-based label, but despite their twang, the Black Swans don’t sound like a country band. Well, a country band summoned from the depths of Hades, perhaps. These guys sound downright nightmarish. Not nightmarish, of course, in the Halloween sense. The Black Swans are just depressing motherfuckers, and DeCicca sounds like a ghost haunting his former lovers as he croons his dark lyrics with his funereal baritone.
The band themselves sound strangely otherworldly. DeCicca’s acoustic guitar is tender and melodic and Noel Sayre’s violin, equally influenced by traditional bluegrass as by classical (he is second chair violin in the Huntington Symphony Orchestra in West Virginia), adds a gorgeous intimacy to the tracks. I have always been a personal fan of the tonal and emotional capacity of the violin and it adds a truly beautiful color and dimension to the arrangements. The rhythm section of Jovan Karcic (drums) and Matt Surgeson (bass) is tight, although relatively uninteresting contrasted with the intimate guitar and rich violin lines. They certainly sound very professional as a band, but one almost wishes for something a little sloppier and dirtier to sit alongside DeCicca’s honest and raw vocals. The production, despite the fact that I think it could stand to be a little dirtier, is still quite nice and the instruments all sound fantastic. So props to the producer for that one, but let’s not be afraid to get down and dirty next time, okay? There are some absolutely great sounds though, and many of the songs sound as if they were recorded in a large hall, just drenched in demonic reverb (apparently a few tracks were recorded in a church). One can imagine these thundering drums causing minor avalanches down in the depths of Hell. (I still swear these guys aren’t fucking human!)
Now, I mentioned that the Black Swans are depressing as fuck, right? These guys just may be Nashville’s answer to Elliott Smith. I mean, these songs are just bitterly depressing. Be prepared for all your hope for a brighter future to be squashed. DeCicca’s lyrics can be downright bitter at times and there is certainly a little anger amidst the suffering.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen honest eyes, and yours, my dear, are just more lies for me to believe…” – “Honest Eyes”
“So go to bed, girl, feel what it’s like to be alone.” – “Song Without You”
You get the picture, I think. I mean, the music is beautiful, yeah, and that could be the albums main selling point, if the beauty wasn’t just so melancholy that the songs almost become crushed under the weight of their own despair. And this isn’t always the melancholy that you can drown your sorrows in either. The Black Swans aren’t here to embrace you and give you a shoulder to cry on, no fucking way. “Song Without You” begins with some tender acoustic moments, which are brought to a nervous halt with a crashing guitar chord. The droning violin in the background certainly doesn’t help the tension of the song. This is not music to listen to crying yourself to sleep after a few beers, because these guys will almost undoubtedly kill your buzz. Although their music often feels very traditional in it’s country roots, they have a tendency to be far more tense and confrontational than most artists playing in a similar idiom. This is real dark stuff, folks.
The Black Swans certainly have the potential to go somewhere. I don’t expect to hear them on the radio or MTV anytime soon, because frankly I don’t think there is a big enough audience for these guys. They’re great, sure, but they’re just so damn depressing. I’ve listened to this album so many times preparing for this review, and I have absolutely grown to love it. The songs are beautiful, and DeCicca’s voice, which I was initially turned off by, really has a beauty and intimacy that many artists lack. Despite the beauty of the songs though, there are still hordes of music fans, many people whose opinions I regard rather highly, in fact, who would never subject themselves to a set this downright gloomy (and I can’t say I blame them). I hate to say it, but I think this band will most likely fall under the radar and end up being sorely underrated in the annals of modern music as is the fate of most good music these days. Perhaps if the Black Swans could take a hint from fellow Prozac poster boys Elliott Smith and Morrissey and learn that depressing music doesn’t always have to sound so damn depressing they may have a shot at being Really Fucking Great. Even so, I’ll certainly be standing in line for their next release, even if they’re just going to crush my little heart over and over again.
You can order the record (and I suggest you do!) from Delmore Recordings.