Astral Swans
Strange Prison

by Jim Di Gioia

May 16, 2018

Strange Prison holds up a mirror to our own human vulnerabilities.


When the first line of your new record admits that you’ve dreamt of killing all your friends, there’s pretty much nowhere left for a singer-songwriter to hide. With Strange Prison, his second album as Astral Swans, Matthew Swann bares his psyche and his soul, taking listeners along as he tries to navigate anxiety, fear, and depression in search of inner truth and beauty.

The notion of inner dialogues permeates Strange Prison, whose songs play out like a series of soliloquies plucked from the confines of Swann’s mind. “There is no point in trying to run,” he sings over the mournful, marching title track; the performance that feels like a sweet surrender rather than sad lament. Perhaps it’s a function of Swann’s delicately composed vocals, which are always in control no matter how harrowing a scene he paints with his lyrics.

This style of soul-baring can sometimes sound clumsy, but there’s a true vulnerability to the winsome alt-folk style of “Prison Builder” and “What Are You Gonna Do With Yourself” that’s utterly endearing. Likely because, somewhere in the recesses of our own minds, we can sympathize and empathize with Swann. Strange Prison holds up a mirror to our own human vulnerabilities, and reminds us of just how easy it is to become ensnared in dungeons of our own making.

Jim Di Gioia

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.
Jim Di Gioia

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