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neumu
Saturday, October 25, 2014 
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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
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Black Swans
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Sex Brain
Bwatue
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What a difference a couple of years makes. In 2004, the Black Swans caught our attention with the luminously beautiful, dark folk of Who Will Walk in the Darkness With You. Ruminative, melancholy, shot through with wild swoops of violin and glowing guitar, it was an album charged with longing, the fear of death, the hope for connection with others.

Sex Brain is a whole other animal, more rock than folk, more about consummation than desire. Whereas a couple of years ago, the boys in the Black Swans were walking around heartbroken in the dark, now they're having a post-coital cigarette. Before, they had rocks in their shoes weighting them down; now they have fingers between female legs and girls hopped up on tequila pulling their pants down. Well, OK, good for them.

As before, the band's core is still singer/guitar player Jerry DeSicca and violinist Noel Sayre. The rest of the band is new with this album — Canaan Faulkner on bass and accordion, Chris Forbes on electric guitar and Keith Hanlon on drums — and they bring a volume and pop orientation that wasn't apparent on the earlier album. "I.D.W.2 F." opens the disc, with a more driving, electrified sound than before. The instrumentation feels denser, with the jangle of guitars and the surge of accordion under DeSicca's silky voice. Sayre's violin, always an interesting element in the Black Swans mix, is barely apparent, and there's a chaotic, feedback-laced coda to the song. It sounds like a different band, musically, and it brings the EP's sexual content straight to the foreground. In fact, the song's title is an abbreviation of its first line, "I don't want to fuck" — an odd opening for a record that is all about exactly that. "Friends," which follows, is more in line with the Black Swans' older sound, with a slow drone of violin rising amid trembling guitar notes. It sounds like a love song, slow and aching with feeling, yet its subject is the liberating power of tequila. "Tequila, my friend/ Inhibitions end with you/ Always end," DeSicca whispers, toward the end of the track, which is gorgeous and far more serious musically than its throwaway lyrics would suggest.

"Your Hands" is also quite lovely, a much-needed alt-folk addition to a select catalog of songs about masturbation. (Buzzcocks' "Orgasm Addict," Divinyls' "I Touch Myself," Jackson Brown's "Rosie" — you can probably think of some others.) Sayre's violin work is particularly fine here, billowing in the slow crevices between verse and chorus, and there's a stately heft to the brush-on-snares percussion. The song is really about memory, loss and desire, not just jerking off. Even so it's still got a creepy, sort of too-much-information quality to it, especially the last verse. ("We're together forever/ Like little hairs you can't see/ And as you're with someone else/ You're still pleasing me.")

The most interesting song on the EP is "Dark Plum," which erupts out of a dirge of discordant feedback, a primal ooze of sorts comprised of wheeling violin figures, the crash of cymbals and long-held guitar notes. It's a wonderful drone, overlapping and sometimes overwhelming the vocals, feeling both traditional and wild at the same time. It's also the song that's most closely aligned with rejection... maybe you just can't write at your best when you're getting laid regularly. Closer "My Lips" is tamer and more pop, a well-kept garden after the tangled chaos of "Dark Plum." There are some pretty harmonies, courtesy of guest singer Sara Jurcyk, and some lyrics about various sex acts slipped into the folk-structured verses.

I found myself enjoying the music on Sex Brain best when I wasn't listening to the lyrics very closely. Pay too much attention and this album becomes like sitting in one of those crowded NYC restaurants where people at neighboring tables are discussing the most personal aspects of their lives at top volume. Sure you might get a little voyeuristic charge out of it, but don't you feel kind of dirty after?


by Jennifer Kelly




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