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Astrid Swan

Spartan Picnic

(Johanna Kustannus; US: 11 Nov 2008; UK: Available as import)

Somewhere between Tori Amos and The Dresden Dolls lies Astrid Swan. If that sentence terrifies you, then best to move on. If, however, that description is not a deal-breaker, you’ll likely find a lot to like in Spartan Picnic, the second album from this Finnish chanteuse. Over a shambolic cabaret full of clangy pianos, boozy horns, and swelling strings, she sings lyrics that would be confessional if they weren’t so obliquely metaphorical. “Look at me now in my suicide note/Look at me now in my family Volvo” is just one of the pointillist couplets herein that make more sense the less closely you look. The best tracks stop on a dime and and then beautifully crumble. It’s not the sound of a broken heart, but of one right in the middle of breaking. The worst are unbearably repetitive nonsense: “Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-toothache!” goes the chorus of the inexplicably titled “This Could Be Mother’s Milk”. It’s salve for the misunderstood souls of teenage girls everywhere, whether 14 in body or soul.

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