The Swell Season: Strict Joy (2010)

(Anti)

Summer approaches and with it long days in the sun filled with blazing temps, numbing noise, outdoor action, and anthemic singles with sharp hooks that will grind through your skull into supple brain tissue never to be forgotten.

And yet, after it all the sun will set and as it descends The Swell Season rises and leads into the calm of early evening.

Irishman Glen Hansard sings and plays the guitar and Czech classical pianist Marketa Irglova plucks the piano, backs and even sings lead vocals on a song. Glen’s vocals ring with a tinge of Dave Matthews at his best but get better in confessional quietude like on the brilliant and utterly beautiful “In These Arms.” He utilizes sharp rises and falls, suppressed cracks, and syrupy whispers to get through songs with “Low Rising” as evidence.

These are love songs and unlike so many we here of loss, these are of the peace of the found and the fear that inevitably accompanies losing yourself in it. The sweet clarity of strings and soft crooning of horns add an orchestral ambiance to several tracks. Notably on “The Rain” which begins with Glen admitting he hasn’t lived up to his promises but the orchestra kicks in and the tenor of failure shifts to hope.

But not all are so candy cane and gum drops. Marketa sings “Fantasy Man” and while her chops are fairly bare, not fitting for lead, these guys know it to and she’s limited to two songs laden with weighty metaphor.

Most accessible on the album, even with enough poppiness to break onto a radio (other than a college station) somewhere, “The Verb” moves with a sense of urgency and shares a glimpse that they can hit several beats per minute dispelling the rumor they play slow because it’s easier.

I’m convinced that in all the madness of Summer, The Swell Season have a place and it’s either between sunset and night or you and that forthcoming fling.

9/10

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