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.