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Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - The Swell Season

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 3 / 4 / 2007

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - The Swell Season
Label: Anti Records
Format: CD


Brilliantly understated, Eno-endorsed album, recorded in four days and origanlly planned as a film soundtrack, by Frames singer Glen Hansard and Czech musician Marketa Irglova

‘Great’ albums tend to come with equally fascinating backstories… record label tension, inter band conflict, brave victories, reckless defeats, drugs, mad producers, unimaginable mishaps, unbelievable strokes of luck. From mega sellers like ‘London Calling’ and ‘Exile On Main Street’ to cult classics like ‘Forever Changes’ and ‘Spiderland’, the iconic nature of rock ‘n’roll will keep us hooked for decades to come, and keep the publishers of 'Mojo' and 'Uncut' in fine tailoring for nearly as long. ‘Good’ albums rarely get as much attention. But if you happen to be a lucky person, and buy one of these albums, you will be sure to get almost as much pleasure. It is still ‘great’ albums that you turn to in times of crisis, but it is ‘good’ albums that you play every day for a month, copy for your friends, play five times over on a weekend. They may not have the same photogenic qualities, or provide the same level of anecdotes, but sometimes artists do just turn up, press play and record incredible music. This is precisely what Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova did when they spent four days in a recording studio and came out with 'The Swell Season'. They had intended to provide a few songs for a film soundtrack, but ended up with ten songs and - having consulted no less a judge than Brian Eno for a verdict - decided they were worth putting out as an album. That was quite a while ago, and now it is seeing an international release, which is no less than this beautiful record deserves. Okay, it isn’t unique in any sense. It would be fair to compare parts of the album to Coldplay and Damien Rice, and, if those names make you start to sweat, you’ll probably be unable to enjoy this either. But that’s your loss. Hansard’s voice is subtle and powerful all at once, flicking between a beautiful whisper and an impassioned wail with just one breath. His songs are always dramatic, and its no surprise that they were wanted for a film. But they are also too good to stay in the background. Hansard is the singer with one of Ireland’s biggest bands, the Frames. The qualities that have lead the Frames to have a devoted, obsessive fanbase emerge in toned down form here. Indeed, two songs were recorded again for the last Frames album. ’Falling Slowly’ loses its atmospheric rush, but not its power, while ‘When You’re Minds Made Up’ gains from its simpler setting. And yet, the best songs are slower. ‘Lies’ has almost a fairy tale quality, while ‘Sleeping’ is simply lovely. Czech musician Irglova’s contributions seem minimal, but her graceful piano lends the album a tone of casual elegance, and sets it apart from similarly hushed folk efforts. This is a quiet, dreamy album. It was made without a grand plan, and not to grab international attention. Hansard is the star of the show, and even if you don’t know the Frames, you will sense that he is the acclaimed artist. But this is a real partnership, and has resulted in a gem of an album. Ironically, well over a year after it was recorded, it may gain the back story it needs to get noticed. Hansard (who has appeared in one film before, as a member of The Commitments) and Irglova were selected over trained actors to star in the film 'Once', which was a prizewinner at the recent Sundance Film Festival, and some of these songs are performed as part of the film. If the film is a big hit, people will surely also notice this album. Luckily, Anti have given it a full release, and it deserves a full audience. A brilliant, brilliant album. I haven’t listened to any other music in weeks.

Track Listing:-
1 This Low
2 Sleeping
3 Falling Slowly
4 Drown Out
5 Lies
6 When Your Mind's Made Up
7 The Swell Season
8 Leave
9 The Moon
10 Alone Apart

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Falling Slowly (2008)
Oscar-winning song for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, which, despite its fourth seperate release, still remains absolutely exceptional

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