WHY?

Let's get some things out of the way. WHY? is a band—three Cincinnati-bred gentlemen who've shared a whole lotta past together. Two of them are brothers. Yoni Wolf, who founded the project by his lonesome in 1998 is one of those (see also: cLOUDDEAD, Greenthink, Reaching Quiet). The other is Josiah Wolf, who first started hitting the skins at their father's synagogue during worship service. They like being in a band together so don't ask about it. WHY?'s third fella is Doug McDiarmid, a high school friend born to French teachers, discovered by the Wolfs whilst playing guitar in a Steve Miller cover band. These men are handsome and meticulous, especially when they do ugly and unwieldy things with words and music.

Like we said, the project started awhile ago. Really, with Yoni in the synagogue basement on a forgotten four-track, recording bad poems and sloppy beats that none of us will ever hear (again, don't ask). Flash forward through his monumental discovery of A Tribe Called Quest and his later untimely egress from art school and you'll arrive at the next most pivotal moment, when the punctuated letters W-H-Y-? graduated from an enigmatic tag loopily scrawled across various Ohio surfaces to something printed on tapes, fliers, records and CDs. As a founding member of Anticon, Yoni had one of the first releases on the label: the Split EP! with Odd Nosdam, WHY?'s half a kaleidoscopic seven-song suite of sweetly sour song-rap.

And then the albums began, with the cult-revered Oaklandazulasylum in 2003, documenting WHY?'s quickening march from an enticingly idiosyncratic outside-of-art, inside-the-bedroom experiment to the fiercely chopsy and wildly creative band of badasses they are today. (If you haven't heard their stuff, you should check it out. It's like pop-inflected psychedelic folk-hop, or chamber music imagined by the most lovelorn and death-anxious Beat Poet that never lived.) 2005's lauded Elephant Eyelash paved the way for tours (Silver Jews, Yo La Tengo, Islands), collabs (Danielson, Department of Eagles, Hymie's Basement, Subtle) and more albums. Oh, and they lived in Oakland for awhile. (You remember that, don't you?)

Everyone comes into their own at different times. For WHY?, most agree that this happened across 2008 and 2009 with a pair of oddly engrossing stunners—the tightly rhythmic Alopecia and its quieter, kinda country cousin Eskimo Snow—which turned the oft-boxed music world on its hella gross cauliflower ear. High marks were awarded by the coolest of customers as the band momentarily swelled to five with the induction of Fog guys Andrew Broder (shred) and Mark Erickson (boom). When they finally came off of the road, WHY? set themselves to humbler tasks: turning out intimate tunes for lucky fans (via a Golden Ticket mail-order merch contest) and intricate beats for rapper Serengeti's praised Family & Friends LP.

Now, it happens to be 2012, so there's a new EP called Sod in the Seed and a new LP, their fifth.

The Black Swans

Ohio has long been a breeding ground for strange beauty. Visionary natives include Scott Walker, Jim Jarmusch, Phil Ochs, Devo, Albert Ayler, Stiv Bators, Scatman Crothers.

Born from that state's capital city, The Black Swans drink the same water as their predecessors. Led by singer/songwriter and guitarist, Jerry DeCicca, the music skirts the cliches of roots music, remaining sincere, smart, soulful, weird and deep.

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.

Reviews on their previous album, "Don't Blame the Stars"

**** (4/5 stars)- Mojo

"...a gorgeous sounding record" - Pitchfork

"an artful intentionality to it all... a terrific album."-- Paste

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