It was just a few years back when Alexandra Sauser-Monnig joined Hiss Golden Messenger for a tour during which she opened for the band and harmonized with them. Her songs were quiet but so affecting. The haunting delicateness of her voice actually made the audience crane their necks so they could better catch each subtle shift in her intonation. For those who were encountering her for the first time, it felt like a soft, warm breeze blew through and then vanished too quickly. Internet searches for her music yielded little at the time. For those who recognized her as one third of the group Mountain Man, this solo set was probably still just as much of a treat, since Mountain Man had not released any new music in nearly 10 years. Fast forward a few years and Mountain Man reunited to release Magic Ship in 2018, a stunning collection of songs that reminded fans what they’d been missing. Still, Sauser-Monnig’s own music needed to be heard, and thankfully, it is finally here.
Recording under the name Daughter of Swords, Sauser-Monnig’s new solo effort, Dawnbreaker, is as devastatingly chill as it is beautiful. There is a certain zen that washes over us as we listen to her gently lulling us with song. Though many of the songs on Dawnbreaker were written in the midst of a tumultuous period in Sauser-Monnig’s life, she approaches obstacles and anxieties with wide eyes and an open heart.
On “Rising Sun,” she employs groovy Simon and Garfunkel-like harmonies to describe the feeling of starting anew with no agenda. She turns her restlessness into a harmonica-laden hum of good vibes and exciting anticipation. Never has a heartbreak sounded so full of promise and opportunity. Similarly, “Easy is Hard” explores the lie of the “grass is always greener” mentality as she parts ways with a lover, equally reluctant and optimistic.
The beauty of Dawnbreaker, though, is the way it expresses the cleansing power of the natural world. All it takes is a dip in the river for Sauser-Monnig’s soul to feel uplifted once again. On the hazy “Long Leaf Pine,” we accompany her on a dreamy stroll through the woods. On “Fields of Gold,” the sun warms her and the breeze revives her, and on “Gem,” the California sky’s breathtaking change in colors gives her hope.
Dawnbreaker is the companion we need for those long, solitary summer drives or walks where we allow our minds to wander and imagine the possibilities we’ve not yet discovered for ourselves.