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Yesterday marked the five-year anniversary of Noel Sayre’s passing. A luminary in the Ohio underground, Noel played violin for our beloved Black Swans. He also performed with the West Virginia and Portsmouth Symphony orchestras and worked as a guitar and violin teacher. Sayre was in a swimming accident on July 1, 2008. After going on life support, he passed away on July 3, 2008.
Sayre’s old friend and bandmate Jerry DeCicca (Black Swans front-man) wrote an entire album about the event. Please read the album’s bio below and listen to “Portsmouth, Ohio” [here]. The haunting song “chronicles the day Noel Sayre died in a swimming pool accident, with a journalistic eye and no sentimentality, taking the listener from the diving board to the I.C.U. to chicken salad sandwiches on the 4th of July. The swimming pool is featured on the album’s cover.” American Songwriter placed The Black Swans’ “Portsmouth, Ohio” at #11 on their Top 50 Songs of 2012 list.
The Black Swans Occasion for Song (MSR064)
The Black Swans’ Occasion for Song, their 5th full-length, is a messy long-haul of emotions dealing with the death of founding member and violinist Noel Sayre, and the aftermath of memory, shock, and loss it created. It recalls lessons learned in 9th grade Health class — DABDA (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). Without a textbook, however, The Black Swans are not so orderly. The guitars and banjo and vocals and drums and bass sound out dark thoughts, sad thoughts, silly thoughts, angry thoughts, and buckets of depression almost all at once. This is an album about loss, death, and trying to get to the acceptance at the end of grief.
The record begins with “Basket of Light” where DeCicca sings “I took a trip where the sun never sits/ but I’ve come back for a few more moments of joy”. It may be the album’s most hopeful personal moment.
The third track, “Portsmouth, Ohio,” chronicles the day Noel Sayre died in a swimming pool accident, with a journalistic eye and no sentimentality, taking the listener from the diving board to the I.C.U. to chicken salad sandwiches on the 4th of July. The swimming pool is featured on the album’s cover.
“Daily Affirmation” and “Fickle and Faded,” the album’s most light-hearted songs, feature the dry humor and playfulness in words and notes the Black Swans are known for whereas “Mask from Memory” may be oddest track the band has ever recorded. It imagines the singer creating a paper mache mask of his deceased friend to see the world through his eyes.
In the coda of the album’s closer, “Bad Day,” DeCicca sings, “Sometimes the occasion for song/ Is filled with reasons that are all wrong/ Don’t sing along” like he can barely get out of bed. But the harmonica, where the violin belongs, sounds as hopeful as it does forlorn.
Occasion for Song was recorded straight to analog in August 2010 in Columbus, Ohio at the famed Mus-i-col Recording Studio (see Numero Group’s Capsoul and Prix label reissues) by Adam Smith (CDR label head, Times New Viking engineer) and mixed at Tangerine Studios by Ben Vehorn (Modest Mouse, Love as Laughter).
The Black Swans’ last record, Don’t Blame the Stars, released in May 2011 on Misra Records, Pitchfork called “gorgeous sounding” and Paste beamed “singular and strong”.
Those compliments are even truer here. Occasion for Song is the sound of a band coming to terms with its grief and the junk it brings. Gorgeous, raw, strange, and sincere.
1. Basket of Light
2. Bound to Be
3. Portsmouth, Ohio
4. Somewhere Else
5. Daily Affirmation
6. JD’s Blues
7. Where Are You Tonight?
8. Mask from Memory
9. Work Song
10. Shake Me Up
11. Fickle and Faded
12. Bad Dream
Jerry DeCicca: vocals, harmonica, guitar
Tyler “Turkeyfoot” Evans: banjo
Canaan Faulkner: bass, piano
Chris Forbes: electric guitar, nylon string guitar, tenor guitar
Keith Hanlon: drums, percussion
Jon Beard: B3 organ
Thanks so much to Mark Richardson, Stephen Deusner, and all at Pitchfork for the wonderful review of The Black Swans’ Occasion for Song. It went up today and it’s just so thoughtful. We couldn’t be more pleased.
“For all its grave intimations, Occasion For Song exhibits a true joy in creating and playing music, in finding the right notes and the right words. It’s a complex, even contradictory record, not just the Black Swans’ best but one of the most incisive and moving mediations on life and the loss of it in recent memory.”