[Album Review] Astral Swans- All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson
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Release Date: February 24th, 2015
Label: Madic Records

‘All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson’ is an exercise in restraint for Matthew Swann (aka Astral Swans). Those who have heard his earlier efforts know quite well that he has a penchant for instrumental experimentation. Even if you are hearing him for the first time you get some sense of this in the swirling psychedelic antics in “Attention” and the spurts of heavy guitar distortion in “My Conscience Don’t Work in the New World”. But those two tracks represent the exception here. For the most part Swann resists the temptation to ‘weird’ out, opting instead to let his sincere singing voice and his straight-forward guitar playing do the talking. And it works a charm – this is indie folk-rock at its finest.

That isn’t to say that the arrangements are dull. Far from it – Swann is astute enough to realize that you’ve got to give the listener some variety or you risk boring them. With a subtle hand Swan creates an interesting array of textures – an eerie keyboard passage or stomping beat here, some echo and reverb there – that effectively heads off any suggestion of ‘sameness’. The pared-down closing song “Grass Girl” would be all the less poignant if it did not stand out from the other tracks by virtue of its relative simplicity.

Above all, Swann engages us with his off-beat attitude, which manifests itself primarily in his lyrics. His words can be sardonic, sometimes dark, but always clever. On a couple of songs (“There Are Ways To Get What You Want” and “September”) he wanders into Chad Vangaalen territory, but Swann is not quite as grim as his fellow Calgarian, despite coming up with lines like, “Find someone to pluck their eyes out, to give/To a blind asshole like you”. There may be dark edges lurking here but that is not the same as the complete absence of light.

Swann may be keeping his wild tendencies in check on his first full-length album as Astral Swans, but his quirky charm is in full evidence, elevating the record far above the mundane.