"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

STRICT JOY (The Swell Season)

  1. Low Rising
  2. Feeling The Pull
  3. In These Arms
  4. The Rain
  5. Fantasy Man
  6. Paper Cup
  7. High Horses
  8. The Verb
  9. I Have Loved You Wrong
  10. Love That Conquers
  11. Two Tongues
  12. Back Broke

“Once, once
Knew how to talk to you
Once, once
But not anymore”

If anything those very lyrics from the Hansard-penned title track from the film highlight that while that may have been the case, since the success of Once both Hansard and Irglová have very much worked out what to say. For Strict Joy is a true gem in the world of folk-inspired rock-pop. Melodically strong and vocally and lyrically impeccable even the questionable in the likes of ‘Fantasy Man’ seem more charming than irritating.

The strength of Strict Joy is undeniably in the relationship between both Hansard and Irglová and the honesty they are able to bring to the table with fellow band members Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Rob Bochnik, Joe Doyle, Graham Hopkins, Stephen Bernstein & Clark Gayton. Nothing seems forced and it’s striking to hear such passion invoked through a combination of gorgeous music and words of a combination of both hope and sad realisation in tracks like ‘In These Arms’:

“cause maybe i was born to hold you in these arms
maybe i was born to hold you in these arms

cause maybe i was born to hold you in these arms
maybe i was born to hold you in these arms

and your saints
and your mantra
and you…… to keep you calm
if you stay
with that asshole
is gonna do you harm
as the voice singing loudly on the radio”

For this is an album by true musicians with very little fanfare or editing in the studio. You won’t hear synthed voices or the introduced techno beats of a heavy-handed producer and in fact it’s the likes of the percussion on the track ‘Paper Cup’ that rings fresh and once again highlights the level of musical understanding of the band’s lead duo.

The album truly reaches heights by the time it reaches ‘High Horses’:

“and even on our worst days
we were never quite like this
we’ve gone as far as we can go
without crashing”

a truly beautiful examination of what it means to get to a summit and not know where to go next. The fear and doubt are truthfully dealt with in such a way that one cannot help but want to reach out to the likes of Hansard and merely say, “Don’t worry.”

Irglová whispers late in the piece:

“so forgive me, lover, for I have sinned
for I have let you go.”

She need not fear for it’s doubtful that if The Swell Season continue to make offerings of this quality they’ll ever have that problem with their listeners. Strict Joy is exactly that.

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