Black Swan Lane was founded in 2007 by Jack Sobel & John Kolbeck, formerly of The Messengers and the great Mark Burgess, formerly of The Chameleons UK and the Sun and the Moon (I borrowed this sentence from the BSL website, thanks Jack). The 1st three records (A Long Way From Home, The Sun and the Moon Sessions, Things You Know and Love) featured an impressive cast of musicians with a dizzying post-punk pedigree. I initially was drawn to the band because of the connection to The Chameleons – I stayed because of the heartfelt lyrics and melody infused post-punk styled music. Each record bore traces of a clear progression, improving upon the last. 2011’s Staring Down the Path of Sound seemed to be the apex of this journey – a masterful record that represented Black Swan Lane’s destination the entire time. In this day and age of sensory overload it raised the question – what will come next?
2012 saw Jack and John playing along with the non-Chameleons members of The Sun & The Moon on Andy Whitaker’s solo record, Things That Happened on Earth. An amazing diversion (and one of my favorite records of 2012), it increased my anticipation for the new Black Swan Lane record that was promised to be “coming soon” in the words of Jack Sobel. Imagine my surprise to find a review copy in my mailbox a few weeks ago. I popped the disc into my car on a drive around suburbia in my soccer mom car on a sunny Puget Sound afternoon and was immediately blown away. Everything the band has been working towards is clear on this record – crooning vocals, lyrics that resonate, music that tugs at the heart-strings. The way the guitars intertwine and mingle around the melody recalls The Sun & The Moon and The Chameleons while the lyrics hint at spiritual yearning as well as the pains of everyday life. I hesitate to say that they can’t top this one – every time they release an album it is better than the last one. What I WILL say is that this is a brilliant album that warrants closer inspection.
I am melting away (album highlights)
The album opens up with a 1-2 punch that is very impressive. Relax and Breathe fades in, building atmosphere. Guitars shimmer, vocals are evocative. The build up to the chorus pays off at just shy of a minute and a half as the song positively explodes out of the speakers, the title refrain repeated in the chorus. The lyrics seem to relate to the feeling that overwhelms a person during an anxiety attack. Key lyrics “and just in case / the sky falls / I still love you / relax and breathe”
Stranger features a melodic bass line that runs through the song, providing a nice contrast to the hazy atmosphere. Immensely catchy, it sucks you into its world and never lets go. One of those tracks that feels much shorter than its 6:49 run time – it is another clear highlight. If musical genre descriptions mean anything (and I guess they do on some level) think post-punk meets shoegazing. Outstanding. Key lyrics: “i’m overly sensitive / drifting further / away from you / from you / i was the stranger”
Without Your Hands To Hold boasts a sinister synth and impassioned vocals. Is this a case of Daniel-San surpassing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid? Black Swan Lane take their influences, throw in their talents, and create another masterpiece. One of my 12 favorite songs from the record, the way the chorus is sung sends chills up my spine. So does the musical interlude at the 2:30 mark. Oh hell, this song is stunning. Key lyrics: “when you think you’ll lose / you begin to stare / waiting for hours of nothing / to see if she’s there / without your hands to hold”
This Precious Life ends the album with a track that is yearning, positive, and resonates emotionally. Acoustic based with music that reminded me of R.E.M. just a wee bit (could just be me). A catharsis, a hope. A perfect conclusion to this outstanding record. Key lyrics “you gave me tomorrow / you gave me the best / …the last time in your light”
You can catch up with Black Swan Lane at blackswanlane.com and check out the band’s history, listen to some tunes, and follow them via the various social networks. I can’t offer up enough praise for this record – it doesn’t matter if you are approaching it from the perspective of a musical hipster or just looking for something new and unique. Every track is a mini masterpiece and warrants your time and attention.
Verdict: BSL gave us their best
- relax and breathe
- slide off the end
- without your hands to hold
- make me your song
- the cage
- lord, please show me why
- this precious life