Album review and interview: The Swell Season — Strict Joy

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The Swell Season
Strict Joy
By Jessica Lewis

They’ve done it. The Swell Season, the Oscar-winning international duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, have found a way to make the most uncomfortable moments in a relationship comfortable. Packed with so much emotion but still bearable, Strict Joy captures the ups and mostly downs of what many know as “it’s complicated.” It could be heartbreaking, as in “The Rain,” where Hansard and Irglova sing, “I know we’re not where I promised you we’d be by now, but maybe it’s a question of who’d want it anyhow?” but then the soft bass and rising chorus kick in and it’s hard to see where any problems started. Hansard and Irglova enlisted the Frames, other assorted guests and acclaimed producer Peter Kadis to give the album a filled-room feel, so Strict Joy is definitely different from what fans might be used to on the Once soundtrack or previous recordings. No need to worry, because not one song is underwhelming. From the chilling, Irglova-fronted “Fantasy Man” and the big band pushed to the limit “High Horses,” all the way through relationship tremors to a calm settlement in “Back Broke,” where Hansard quietly sings, “Cause it’s clear you still want me,” Strict Joy delivers its namesake.

Why did you name the album after a poem?
Hansard: It conjures up discomfort and this idea of I won’t suffer. The poem reflects on the idea that we go into ourselves and if we do a good job in the exploration and the confession, that if we do a decent job of it, something good can come of it, because truth is always something very valuable to the people, even if it’s not their truth, just a truth. To go and mine in the darkness of your soul and pull things apart and just explore, sometimes there is wonder and beautiful things in there but you pull out the coal and sometimes there are diamonds. That’s the idea of the recurring line, because the poet makes grief beautiful.

How did you get the fuller sound?
Irglova: The band had been touring with us anyway before we went into the studio. I like the fact that everybody sings. A lot of the songs on the album, everybody gets a chance to sing on them. There’s something really exciting about all the voices coming together as one. And so, for me, that’s a lovely part of the music that I make with the band. (Anti)

Read more of my interview with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova here.


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