Heaven knows what circumstances prompted Jerry DeCicca to write the songs on Sex Brain, his band’s latest EP. It’s possible, though, that The Black Swans’ frontman was having one of those weeks. You know, those times when no matter what’s on your plate, the only thing you can think about is, well, sex. To say that the physical act is Sex Brain’s theme is an obvious understatement, but for a melancholic like DeCicca, sex is never as simple as it sounds.
The Swans’ first record, Who Will Walk in the Darkness With You?, is a downhearted, Tindersticks-like affair that occasionally mires in its own sadness. It’s a lyrically strong record, though, which, despite its pacing, proves that DeCicca has a knack for evoking the sensual—even if, in that case, his gift is aimed at the more poignant aspects of romance. There’s nothing lofty about the sex in Sex Brain, however, which at first glance is as corporal as a college freshman on his first spring break.
Sex Brain’s opening track, “I.D.W.2 F,” for example, is a hymn to the causal hook-up and the forced intimacy it implies: “Now you’re sharing your secrets / And my finger’s between your legs / It feels so good to hold someone again / You don’t remind me of anyone.” Though DeCicca claims that he “(doesn’t) want to fuck,” he gives in to his selfish desires. Even with the promise of immediate pleasure, however, DeCicca can’t help but ponder the farsighted inferences. “Could I believe in you and me?” he sings. “You don’t even know my middle name.”
Though rare, it’s those sorts of asides that distinguish Sex Brain. Amid the supposed uncommitted physicality, DeCicca’s dread rises up like thought bubbles in a Penthouse cartoon. He’s trying to be shallow but can’t quite pull it off. The record’s five songs are uncomfortably graphic, but it’s obvious that DeCicca’s desire for closeness lies behind the bravado. In the song “Your Hands,” for example, an autoerotic moment is interrupted by nostalgia: “It was sweat and shampoo / Now it’s cocoa butter lotion / And I dream of your hair / In my afternoon motion.” “Your hands,” he concludes sadly, “are better than mine.”
Despite a partially new lineup, Sex Brain doesn’t diverge musically from Who Will Walk in the Darkness With You? Keith Hanlon’s drums are dry and laconic except on the opening track, which, though mid-tempo, is by far the record’s fastest. DeCicca’s acoustic guitar provides the backbone, while Chris Forbes’ electric and Canaan Faulkner’s accordion are relegated to atmospheric roles. Like its predecessor, Sex Brain winds down, but due to its shorter length, the effect isn’t stupefying—credit also DeCicca’s spicy descriptions that, if nothing else, serve to pick up the ears. Fiddler Noel Sayre provides additional edge. Alternately abrasive and sweet, his off-kilter runs are a foil for DeCicca’s dreams of intimacy in the groping, which at times seem almost comical.
In this way, Sex Brain recalls the work of poet Charles Bukowski, who, in “The Great Lover,” imagines that his floozy companion is “the golden girl of the golden heart and the golden way of laughter and love and hope.” Like “The Great Lover,” Sex Brain combines dirty talk with sensitivity and humor. The result is a self-deprecating whole that’s more compassionate than pornographic, more about longing than consummation.