Tag: Astral Swans

New Video: Astral Swans Teams Up with Julie Doiron on a Mesmerizing New Single and Visual

Matthew Swann is a Calgary-based singer/songwriter, best known as the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed recording project Astral Swans. With Astral Swans, the Calgary-based singer/songwriter specializes in narratives of lonerism, frailty, absurdity and whimsy, told with darkly comedic empathy and helpless concern.

Swann first rose to prominence in 2015 as the first artist signed to Madic Records, an imprint of Arts & Crafts Records, helmed by Juno Award-winning artist Dan Mangan. The label was created for the purpose of releasing Swann’s Astral Swan debut, 2015’s All My Favourite Singers are Willie Nelson. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim receiving praise from Noisey, who described it as “a stark, beautiful project that embraces darkness rather than shying away from it,” and from The Calgary Herald, who called Swann, an artist of immeasurable depth, incredible smarts, remarkable bravery and infinite charm creativity and insight.

2018’s Scott Munro co-produced Strange Prison was released to even more acclaim, receiving praise from Paste, Tiny Mix Tapes, Post Trash and a long list of others. Album single “CONTROLS” reached #1 on CBC Radio 3 and lead to a live performance on CBC’s q.  Adding to a growing profile, Swann supported the tours across Canada, Japan and Europe, including a packed show at the 2019 Reeperbahn Festival.

Swann’s self-titled album comes after three and a half year of touring — and well, a pandemic. Unlike his previously released material, Swann almost exclusively composed the album’s songs internally on solo walks through various cities around the world before the pandemic and in the same city repeatedly during the pandemic. As Swann describes it, “the melodies were written in my head, on long walks alone, like spontaneous flowers sprouted from the id; ecstatic downloads from a cosmic wind. Sometimes the lyrics appeared with the melodies, other times they were refined, after the fact.”

The self-titled album is reportedly Swann’s most upbeat, catchy and immediate album to date. Each of the album’s songs operates as an absurdist short story filled with the Calgary-based singer/songwriter’s wry observations of the sad beauty of mundane moments. The songs range from affirmations of joy amidst dread, composed in the streets of Shimokitazawa Tokyo, ballads of disorientated musings on uncertainty and addiction, birds heckling the anxious and heartbroken in Amsterdam’s Vondel Park and more.

The album’s first single “Flood” was released to widespread praise last month. Continuing upon that momentum, the album’s latest single, “Spiral” is a breezy and mesmerizing bit of cosmic folk centered around twangy guitars, atmospheric synths and a soaring hook reminiscent of Nick Drake — but paired with Swann’s woozy delivery. Julie Doiron contributes her gorgeous vocals as a backing vocalist. Lyrically, the song reveals Swann as a sort of zen trickster: underneath the playful and absurdist jokes is a deeper message about our existence, if you pay close attention.

“This was the first song I wrote after Covid quarantine, in March 2020,” Swann explains. “It’s about seeking out joy, and trying to escape pain in ways that backfire, within reference to the hamster wheel of late stage capitalism; consumerism, addiction, neoliberalism, the reduction of identity to social media posturing, etc ad infinitum. It’s about trying to escape something that seemingly has no escape, in spite of its glaring foolishness and lack, and the desperation which it brings to a person’s humanity. In the studio we went for a 1970’s wrecking crew polished country vibe speckled with synth exploration a la Stereolab and Broadcast. Once again Julie’s vocals are the cherry on top. When I sent the final album to Jim Bryson (who’s one heck of a producer in his own right), He simply replied “you have Julie Doiron on it, you’ve already won the war.”

Directed by Laura-Lynn Petrick, the recently released video for “Spirals” follows Swann walking through a series of sun dappled and surreal settings. At one point, we see Swann pick up a black and white photo of Doiron from a stream. Throughout, there’s a sense of Swann seeking something, even if he doesn’t quite know why, what or how.

The self-titled album is slated for an October 8, 2021 release through Tiny Rooms/Major Tom Records.

New Audio: Dan Mangan’s Spectral Cover of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”

Dan Mangan is a Smithers, British Columbia, Canada-born, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based multi-Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, whose music career started in earnest back in 2003 when he was 20 with the release of his debut EP All At Once. 500 copies were pressed and then sold or given away throughout the Vancouver area. Building upon the initial bit of buzz surrounding him, Mangan financially supported with a bank loan, recorded his Daniel Elemes and Simon Kelly co-produced full-length debut Postcards & Dreaming with the assistance of a small community of musicians, who offered cheap or free session work. Much like All At Once, Mangan initially released his full-length debut independently, selling the album online and at live shows; but by 2007, Vancouver-based indie label File Under: Music re-released the album with new artwork and a new, extra track “Ash Babe.”

August 2009 saw the release of Mangan’s sophomore full-length effort Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Deriving its name from a line Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, the John Critchley-produced album was recorded at Toronto’s Green Door Studios and featured an assortment of Canadian musicians include Veda Hille, Justin Rutledge, Mark Berube, Hannah Georgas, members of Said The Whale, Major Maker and Elliot Brood. The album’s first two singles “Robots” and “Road Regrets” received airplay on local Vancouver radio stations, as well as The Verge and CBC Radio 3 — with Magnan eventually winning Artist of the Year at that year’s Verge Music Awards. 

The following year, Nice, Nice, Very Nice was licensed and released by renowned, Toronto-based indie label Arts & Crafts in the States and in Europe through City Slang Records. Adding to growing critical acclaim surrounding the album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, named iTunes Album of the Year in the singer/songwriter category, won three Western Canadian Music Awards — Independent Album of the Year, Roots/Solo Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. And “Robots” was named Best Song in the CBC Radio 3 BUCKY Awards. 

Over the course of the next year, Mangan began collaborating with musicians from Vancouver’s experimental music scene, recruiting rummer Kenton Loewen (Mother Mother, Submission Hold and Gord Grdina Trio), bassist John Walsh (Brasstronaut) and guitarist Gord Grdina (Gord Grdina Trio, Haram, and East Van Strings) to be his backing band for the writing and recording sessions that eventually comprised 2011’s Colin Stewart-produced Oh Fortune. Loewen, Walsh and Grdina recruited a large, rotating cast of local musicians including trumpeter JP Carter (Fond of Tigers, Destroyer), violinist Jesse Zubot (Fond of Tigers, Hawksley Workman, Tanya Tagaq), pianist Tyson Naylor and cellist Peggy Lee (Mary Margaret O’Hara, Wayne Horvitz, Veda Hille). Additionally, Magnan enlisted Eyvind Kang to contribute orchestral arrangements. The album was a critical and commercial success with the album winning Juno Awards for New Artist of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year with nominations for Songwriter of the Year and Video of the year for the Jon Busby-produced video for “Rows of Houses.” The album won three Western Canadian Music Awards for “Rock Album of the Year,” Independent Album of the Year,” and “Songwriter of the Year.” Also, the album was long-listed for that year’s Polaris Music Prize. Lastly, “Rows of Houses” won Best Song in the CBC Radio 3 BUCKY Awards, making Mangan the winningest artist in the award’s history — and the only artist to date that has won in the Best Song category multiple times. 

Credited to Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, 2015’s Club Meds found Magnan and his backing band of Grdina, Loewen, Walsh, Naylor, Carter and Zubot focusing on core band contributions — and while critically applauded, the album wasn’t as commercially successful as its predecessor. Since then, Mangan released the digitally released EP Unmake, which featured a cover of Robyn’s “Hang With Me,” stripped down versions of “Kitsch” and “Forgetery,” off Club Meds and an acoustic version of “Whistleblower,” re-worked from the original 6/8 time to 4/4 time and contributions from Tegan and Sara’s Tegan Quin, and drummer Loel Campbell (Wintersleep and Holy Fuck). Mangan has also done a few film and TV scores, including the CBC/AMC series Unspeakable, headed the Arts & Crafts Records imprint Madic Records, which released albums by Walrus and Astral Swans, who he has produced. During this exceedingly busy period, the acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist took some time off and became a father before writing and releasing his latest album the Drew Brown-produced, More or Less, an album that Mangan claims “feels more like ‘me’ than ever.” 

The critically applauded Vancouver-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is currently in the middle of a lengthy tour to support his latest effort, and it includes a March 14, 2019 stop at Mercury Lounge. (You can check out the tour dates below.) And to celebrate the tour, and its inclusion in the trailer for Unspeakable, Mangan released a spectral, Peter Gabriel-like cover of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” that’s centered around a looped guitar line, twinkling jazz-like keys and Magnan’s plaintive vocals. Admittedly, while I’ve been a huge R.E.M. fan for most of my life, I’ve hated “Losing My Religion” for many years because it was played way to death and then some throughout 1991 and 1992; but Mangan’s cover reminds me of the original song’s mysterious quality and weary ache. “When I was a kid, R.E.M. was a staple in my household,” says Mangan. “I remember air guitaring to this song with my brother and sister. It was such a massive hit but also so unlikely a candidate to be so. The chorus isn’t really a chorus. It’s long. It’s repetitive. It’s like a hypnotic cyclical trance of words that stick with you even if you have no idea what they’re about. I really wanted to try and approach it from a new angle. There’s no point in attempting to sing like Michael Stipe — there is only one Michael Stipe. So I tried my best to let it live in a new light while paying homage to the original.”