Forgotten series: The Black Swans – Don’t Blame the Stars (2011)

It’s a truism that our society pays homage to the sham psychotic, while sweeping the genuinely mentally ill under the rug. Or as the great philosopher Julian Cope once said:

We’re in love with beauty,
We’re in love with wealth,
We’re in love with mental health

The Black Swans’ Jeff DeCicca sought to rectify this imbalance with Don’t Blame the Stars. The band’s fourth LP was a deeply personal meditation on loss, addiction and transformation. But it was also the lyrical narrative of overcoming clinical depression.

Indeed, “Mean Medicine” is a dark and rollicking lithium waltz, all about kicking said wonder drug. A spoken word introduction sets the stage for the country noir of “Sunshine Street.” In a warm, slightly throaty voice, DeCicca recalls watching reruns of detective TV shows, particularly liking the episodes where a victim goes missing.

One day I went missing, and nobody knew where to look.
And that’s a show you don’t want to see twice.

Spoken interludes introduce several songs, in prose that’s poetic while still sounding plain spoken. Witness this phrase from “Worry Stone”:

Have you seen my worry stone?
I skipped it across a bed of broken bones.

Musically, the LP is a subdued but driven genre jumper. Lead cut “Boo Hoo” taps into a ’70s LA singer/songwriter vibe, casting DeCicca as a dustbowl baked cat Stevens. The Memphis soul of “Joe Tex” recalls a sunny Warren Zevon. And the good-timey country shuffle of “Windshield Wipers” revives memories of quirky cowboy rockers Commander Cody and Dan Hicks, particularly when the song makes room for a goofy water gargling solo.

Patterned after the fragmented ruminations of Willie Nelson’s “Yesterday’s Wine,” Don’t Blame the Stars is an album framed by thoughts of mortality. Longtime band mate Noel Sayre died in 2008, and it is his sweetly weeping violin that dominates most tracks. But the album is not saddled with sadness. In its minor but amiable way, the Black Swans’ LP searches for life’s meaning in simple things like “black licorice, sweet potato pie and fireworks.”

Patrick Moran

Chicago native Pat Moran is a filmmaker who has produced and written five feature films, and served as producer and editor for Western Classics, a film series hosted by actor James Best. He also writes about music for Creative Loafing Charlotte. The best job title he ever had was "part-time vampire." Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.