Astral Swans
All My Favourite Singers Are Willie Nelson

by Jim Di Gioia

March 25, 2018

Astral Swans’s 2015 debut is one long continuous kick against the pricks.

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All my favourite singers have that certain je ne sais quoi. Call it aptitude, call it attitude, call it what you will. Like a knowing wink or a wry smile, their vocal delivery conveys more in a few breathy bars than most novelists do in a weighty 800-page tome.

With his 2015 debut record as Astral Swans, Matthew Swann joined the ranks of all those other fabled favourite singers whose mere utterances can send shivers down the spine. His voice is prominently the focus of All My Favourite Singers Are Willie Nelson, without ever imposing himself upon the listener. Flanked by sometimes spare, seemingly inconsequential arrangements, Swann’s neurotic and tense performance is intrinsic to the success of the album’s twelve tunes.

On first listen, there’s a sense of surrender in songs like “Beginning Of The End”, as if Swann’s resigned to bearing his lot in life, like a fever blister that flares and burns at the most inopportune times. But in reality, All My Favourite Singers Are Willie Nelson is one long continuous kick against the pricks; it may be a losing battle against fear, phobias, and falsehood, but Swann is determined to go down swinging.

If ink blots randomly pressed between two pages could create music, they’d probably sound a lot like the penultimate track “Attention”, the album’s most free-form and loose-limbed moment. While it’s a common characteristic of Swann’s songs here (a holdover from his days as Extra Happy Ghost!!!, perhaps), the sense of experimentation and exploration on All My Favourite Singers Are Willie Nelson comes more from the emotional impact the songs have on the listener rather than their composition. As evidenced by his more recent work, Swann is nothing if not sincere in his delivery, thought-provoking in his subject matter, and highly engaging as a performer.

Sounds like favourite singer material if you ask me.

Jim Di Gioia

CoFounder at DOMINIONATED
Jim founded the music blog Quick Before It Melts in 2006 and was its principal writer until 2016, when its decade-long run ended 10 years to the day it started. DOMINIONATED is its spiritual successor. Jim currently serves as a Polaris Music Prize jurist and Prism Prize jurist.

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