Daughter of Swords – Dawnbreaker

Daughter of Swords is the solo project of Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, who you probably know as one third of Mountain Man alongside Sylvan Esso’s and Molly Sarlé (who also has a brilliant solo album out this year, grab the latest Gold Flake Paint to see Jon’s review). Dawnbreaker is the project’s debut, an album “about a breakup that had yet to happen,” Sauser-Monnig kicking off the comfortable indecision of a settled life for the self-reliance of new horizons. It’s not a breakup record in the sense of explicit hurt and melodrama, instead plotting the hope and confusion and anguish of human relationships alongside the patient rhythms of nature and landscapes.

Lead single ‘Gem’ adds a little pop polish to the album’s organic folk, a song Sauser-Monnig describes as having a “messed up little drum beat and unrelenting optimism.” It’s bright-eyed and wondering, a bittersweet marvel at the poetry of the world that reveals itself truly (and fleetingly) when life’s key elements slide into place.

This intangible feeling continues across the album, from the timeless heart-worn country shuffle of ‘Easy Is Hard’ to the folk rock road song ‘Fields of Gold’, a track that’s rich with the possibility of the open highway. But it’s ‘Human’ that captures the album’s themes most directly, approaching endings and moments of change not with bitter hysterics but a patient sense of understanding. “Oh sweetheart you’re only human,” Sauser-Monnig sings, “don’t blame yourself so hard.” It’s indicative of a record that explores the knots and frayed ends of a relationship with a sense of perspective and compassion, that finds a curious sense of melancholic peace in plants and animals and the passage of the sun across the sky.

The closing title track is a deceptively simple folk song that sparkles with realization and possibility. The lyrics are minimal and perfect, mostly just two-word lines of staccato poetry that evoke the natural world in all its glory, Sauser-Monnig as the narrator becoming a red hawk, a sun dog, a sea. She describes it as a song “about waking to the day beautifully breaking around you, and waking also to the realization that the life you’ve been leading is breaking with it.” One of the first recordings she made across the whole album, this version of the song was intended as a rough initial take, but after playing it back it decided that the immediacy and gentle emotion of the song should be left in its bare-bones form.

As it’s title suggests, Dawnbreaker feels like an intake of breath, the pale and lucid hours before the events of the day. It’s a record that’s no afraid of change, embracing the freedom we usually associate with other creatures. To return to a line from ‘Human’:

You can’t will love to life
but you can do the loving thing
make like a bird and fly

Dawnbreaker is out now on Bella Union and Nonesuch. You can get it from the Daughter of Swords Bandcamp page. Daughter of Swords is also visiting UK shores in January. Check out the dates below:

Wednesday 22 January – Leeds – Hyde Park Book Club
Thursday 23 January – Glasgow – Broadcast
Saturday 25 January – Bristol – At The Well
Monday 27 January – Brighton – Latest Music Bar
Wednesday 29 January – London – St Pancras Old Church
Thursday 30 January – Dublin – The Sound House

photo of daughter of swords

Photo by Kendall Bailey Atwater