I picture Astrid Swan sitting at a piano in some cozy Finnish bar, preparing to play a round of several songs she’s recently crafted. Perhaps she clears her throat or cracks her knuckles. And then, whether compensating for her blond-pixie appearance or just because it’s her fancy, she proceeds to bang the hell out of her instrument, making damn sure that all casual conversation therein effectively ends. This seems to be Swan’s modus operandi, and it makes Poverina an intriguing debut.
Poverina dramatically unfolds as piano-driven cocktail-folk music built for arenas rather than lounges. Even the quieter moments are forceful. Songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Blonde” are adorned with flugelhorns, flutes, cellos and other decidedly un-rock ‘n’ roll instruments.
Swan has a supple voice that is largely mannerism free. At times reminiscent of a smoother, shinier Suzanna Hoffs, she doesn’t oversell her songs, rather presenting them at face value. “They Need You If They Think You Love Them” and “Life in a Container” may have fragile subjects, but their stories are told with strength. If the lyrics aren’t quite on par with Joni Mitchell, per se, her youth and sharp command of the language portend future growth.
Swan is right at home on Minty Fresh, a label that has a history of embracing exports of Scandinavia, especially if they’ve packed a cosmic or ethereal quality with them. Poverina has more than its share of awkward moments — a common trait often risked by painfully earnest singer-songwriters. Perhaps Swan would seem more hip were she a cheekier artist, but I can foresee this album planting a seed among a new breed of discriminating but melodramatic teenagers too young to have cut their teeth and wrists on Tori Amos.