Finland's own multi-instrumentalist Astrid Swan’s debut album, Poverina, was released on Minty Fresh Records on May 22. The opening track, "They Need You if They Think You Love Them," starts out gently with a tapping glockenspiel and cleverly transitions into Astrid's husky voice and piano. The arrangement is intense and dramatic at times with almost a full orchestra of instruments.
It is hard not to compare Ms. Swan with the much underrated '70s quirky-pop diva, Laura Nyro. Both women not only have sultry styles of their own, but each singer is able to blend together several musical elements of pop, soul, folk, show tunes and Swan's own influence, jazz. Swan says that "[j]azz was often played in our home, and although I used to say I hated it, it seems something has rubbed off onto my songs."
One main thing I noticed in hearing Swan's jazz influence in her music is the unpredictable chord arrangements. The music can be complicated with dynamic shifts in tone, which plays with our ideas of tempo and style. Swan uses her piano like a weapon at times. An example of this is the track "Second Chance," which has unexpected variations and intense lyrics such as: "he gave me broken wings/and told to fly/he said I have eternity/and time is an ocean/that I can fly over." The Bacharach-esque title track, "Poverina," is a catchy tune, which has fast dynamic musical shifts reminding me of Fiona Apple, and demonstrates that Swan's singing range is extremely versatile.
Astrid Swan's melodies are memorable, and, like Nyro, her voice is an acquired taste. It is not for everyone, but it works beautifully with her music.