In clumsier hands, the Black Swans’ five-song EP, Sex Brain, might have been called Penises and Vaginas. Frontman Jerry DeCicca at first mumbles and then clearly restates the word “swallow” on “Friends”; it is safe to assume that he has absolutely no interest in ornithology, and it isn’t a stretch to infer that any interest DeCicca does have in birds may be purely sexual.
Sex Brain is often times graphic, absurdly un-sexy and completely detached (until the finale), but it maintains a mood and mystery that develops into a magnetism to conquer any moments that threaten to be unsophisticated. It has the feel of an other-worldly observer (a cosmic peeping Tom?) who is incapable of human sexual relations but proficient enough in English to recount the sweaty behavior he sees humans engage in — a tough chore considering Sex Brain also deals in the psychology of sex. It would be easy to assign the above to DeCicca’s incomparable vocals (various reviews offer the following comparisons: “a stoned-but-bookish, seductive Muppet,” an American Bryan Ferry, a Norwegian impersonating Leonard Cohen and Alasdair Roberts channeling Chris Isaak); subsequent listens reveal an album shaking free of perversion and juvenility as a result of Noel Sayre’s classic, folk violin and the rare accordion piece that manages to not only avoid obnoxiousness but also to transcend (although it is perhaps not so difficult to transcend a song titled “I Don’t Want 2 Fuck.”)
“Friends” documents the merits of alcohol in the abolition of inhibitions: “She pulled my pants down and said she knows my girlfriend.” Sorrowful but unrepentant, Sayre’s violin is seemingly the only human element here. DeCicca gets a grip on his senses in “Your Hands” by ditching the crippling dependence upon sight that is characteristic of human beings; he crafts memories of a lost love through a series of smells. “Dark Plums” makes use of virtually every analogy that exists between food and anatomy (plum trees, fruits, dark plums, orchards, juice, fruit flies, butter, jam), and in keeping with the subtlety leaves a few for the listener to ponder (there is no mention of melons, sausage, fur-burgers or hair-pies). “My Lips” is the lightest sonically but closes out the EP by creating a jarring dichotomy with the introduction of female vocals (Sara Jurcyk) and the direct take on the meaning of sex when lust has been displaced by love: “Will we wear out our welcome/ As closeness grows dull/ Our bodies too familiar/ My hard-on sinks into a lull.”
The Black Swans’ 2004 debut, Who Will Walk in the Darkness with You?, was introspective, dark folk and every bit as creepy as the title suggests. Here, the band moves cheerfully (?) into a more physical realm, replacing the all-encompassing somberness with actual rock pieces (although often times slow-moving) about external pleasures. Sex Brain is an altogether entertaining find and no doubt a strange bridge to whatever the band is planning as a follow-up.