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While this website has become known for its in-depth album and concert reviews, the digest contains concise comments on new music our audience has either recommended or might enjoy. Click on album covers or label names for links to further information. Click on the title to view the article.

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The Swell Season CD Cover
Image Overcoat Recordings 2006

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglov
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglov
Image The Swell Season 2007

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglov
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglov
Image The Swell Season 2007

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglov
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglov
Image The Swell Season 2007

 

(23 March 2008) The title of The Swell Season (Overcoat Recordings (USA) 036172612529, 2006) was inspired by a Josef Skvorecky novel of the same name, a favourite of Frames singer Glen Hansard who teams up with youthful Czech singer and pianist Marketa Irglova to form a collaborative album filled with ten tracks of singer-songwriter heartache that has seen the duo rise to meteoric fame, alongside the pair featuring in the highly praised independent Irish romance Once in 2007.

The album was initially released in 2006 whilst the duo were touring in the Czech Republic and were approached by film director Jan Hrebejk, who requested them to write a handful of songs to feature on his upcoming release Beauty In Trouble. The two set about composing music together, and the album came out in April of the year. The Swell Season became a label the pair gave whilst performing on occasions, which they continued to do so after the album's release, yet their exposure sky rocketed following the release of Once. A film featuring both as musicians and actors that lead to the film's lead piece "Falling Slowly" winning an Oscar for best song earlier this year, a song featured on The Swell Season.

The sound thrives on the mournful, fragile yet beautiful voice of Marketa Irglova and Hansard's broken, stumbling, ultimately gripping delivery joining and parting within such instrumentation as crisp acoustic guitar, gentle piano and swaying string-work. The rhythm section offers shuffling percussion and the album is enhanced with an appropriately delicate production allowing the listener to pick up every strum, every vocal whisper, every heavy sigh between lines.

"This Low" introduces a reflective Hansard whose shrill vocals ring out above simplistic acoustic strums and subtle cello, to be joined briefly by Irglova for a despairing chorus, her soft delivery melting inside Hansard's fragmented crooning in a short, moving introduction. "Sleeping" excels on a stellar performance from Hansard. He struggles for air, meandering over verses swaying with viola and finger-picked guitar, tearing himself apart for a mournful chorus filled with painful melody that grips as he lets free his fears of being alone in heart-wrenching fashion. "Falling Slowly" captures the essence of the album within 4:00 minutes of stunningly emotive vocals from both Irglova and Hansard flowing into one another against hovering strings and serene piano. The chorus leaps out at you as the duo cry for hope, or maybe simply just for one another in a real highlight that's hard not to feel moved by in some way.

"Lies" hovers tentatively in an opening of plucked viola and piano that guides the uncertain voices of Irglova and Hansard as they stumble through words gushed with an aching rawness, in a short track rich with imagery and honest hurt whilst "When Your Mind's Made Up" manages to uplift with vibrant guitars, passionate drums that hit at just the right time and swirling piano easing Hansard's soaring chorus delivery as he fights to hold on. "When your minds made up, there's no point even talking" he passionately spits as Irglova's voice hovers in the distance, shrouding Hansard's constant fragility. The title track is an immersive instrumental piece well placed to break apart the intensity of the songs, and prepares the listener for "Leave". Just an acoustic and Hansard is all this song needs to create a haunting atmosphere that cuts inside torn vocals and jagged chords as the singer rips apart his emotions in a steady rise, the song growing in tension before exploding into a destructive blend of vocal wails and violent strings that chills.

As The Swell Season closes with Irglova's dark vocal murmurs and dissonant guitar on final track "Alone Apart" the feel is of leaving not merely the music, but these two individuals, behind. The sense of intimacy the album conjures is strong, as you are thrust into the pained, emotive battle of love the two are swept inside. The tracks effectively stand alone individually, as there is little on the album to be considered weak or cast aside as filler material, though for the true experience of The Swell Season a solitary, entire listen is recommended. One for late-night self-discovery and stretching journey's ripe with reflection, or perhaps simply just anyone who has felt the joy and despair of love. Accessible, passionate and expertly crafted, dare this not to break your heart, or at least touch you in some way. A must listen.--Jim Hall in Derby, England

 
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