Swell Season – Strict Joy

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

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When you’ve struck gold right out of the box – which, in the
case of the Swell Season, means winning an Oscar Best Original Song (“Falling
Slowly”) and garnering a pair of Grammy nominations to boot – following up on
that initial success can pose a somewhat daunting proposition.  Having scored so conclusively, it might have
been tempting for Glen Hansard to return to fronting his day band the Frames
and encourage his personal and professional partner Marketa Irglova to resume
her classical career in Prague.  But if Once, the film in which they starred and
the soundtrack that they conceived, initially appeared to be a one-off project,
this second set confirms that the Swell Season is a year-round preoccupation.

 

Naturally then, this sophomore album doesn’t veer from the
template they initially established, one that’s occupied with lush textures,
hushed sentiments and a generally mellow mood. Fortunately though, Hansard and
Irglova – no longer a couple, but still committed to making music together,
here abetted by, among others, members of the Frames – don’t get bogged down in
dour or dewy-eyed melancholia; these tracks build and crest, ruminating with
atmospheric ambiance that cushion these melodies and sweep them up in a
beguiling embrace.  As a result, songs
such as “Feeling the Pull,” “The Rain,” and “High Horses” start off with a
lowered gaze but steadily lift the veil, parting the clouds of uncertainty to
realize grander designs.  Likewise, the
rumbling and meditative “I Have Loved You Wrong,” the down-low refrain of “Low
Rising” and the exotic mid-eastern accent of “Love That Conquers” initially
derive their beauty from a subtle afterglow, but culminate with a sound that’s
both stirring and striking.

 

Notably then, Strict
Joy
affirms its title, establishing an aura that’s subtle but sensual,
introspective and yet evocative.  An
album of autumnal delights, it proves emphatically that indeed Once was indeed not enough.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“Feeling the Pull,” “I Have Loved You Wrong,” “The Rain”
LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

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