Glen Hansard, Rhythm and Repose
By Luke Larsen
June 21, 2012
Luke Larsen is a freelance writer, music connoisseur and indie game enthusiast hailing from Portland, Ore. His opinions, interviews, and reviews have been featured in publications such as Paste Magazine, Prefix,GameChurch and Christ and Pop Culture. The goal of his writing has always been to encourage people to interact with and speak back to the pop culture they digest in meaningful ways. For more, follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11.
Four years after Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard took the stage at the Oscars, I still have a hard time separating them in my mind. It bereaves me to have to bring up Irglova when talking about Hansard. Since the couple's breakup, the two have sent mixed messages about the future of their collaboration in music. On one hand, they are still continuing their work with the Swell Season. However, they have also expressed a certain amount of uneasiness for their identities to be attached to each other both personally and musically.
But a lot has happened since 2008. The couple has broken up but continued to do music together with the group Swell Season. Marketa Irglova has gotten married, and last year she quietly released her first solo album, Anar. It was a collection of easy listening indie pop songs—so quiet and unremarkable that most people didn't even notice its release.
Because of my disappointment with that album, I optimistically expected a new Glen Hansard record would be one that sought to detach his musical identity from his relationship with Irglova. So when I first heard Glen Hansard's contribution to The Hunger Games soundtrack, "Take the Heartland," I got really excited about what a Glen Hansard solo album could be. It was loud, aggressive, and spectacularly featured Hansard's yelping higher range—a return to the feel of his work back with The Frames.
But instead, Glen Hansard's first solo album, Rhythm and Repose, takes the exact opposite approach. The songs on Rhythm and Repose feel like they could have been B-sides to a forthcoming Swell Season album—a collection of soft indie ballads led primarily by piano and acoustic guitar. A Swell Season without Marketa Irglova, that is. Take a song like heartstring tuggers "Maybe Not Tonight" or "What Are We Gonna Do." Hansard is as emotive as ever here but, throughout, I just couldn't help but wonder if he was still stuck in the past.
Fortunately, not every song fits into this mold. The opening track, "You Will Become," kicks things off with an exciting escalating build, while also featuring an interesting use of electronics. Later on, the track "High Hope" finally brings back some of Hansard's trademark high-pitched screams. This is the Glen Hansard that I desperately want to hear a solo career built on. But on Rhythm and Repose, it acts as merely a diversion to split up the pattern of one sleepy acoustic song after another.
Even at its very best (I'm thinking of the single "Philander," for example), Rhythm and Repose is an album that never veers out of Hansard's comfort zone. It's an enjoyable listen, and I'm sure hardcore fans of Hansard will be delighted. But to me, the album feels more like a supplemental side project to he Swell Season than the beginning of an exciting new solo career.
I suppose we always have the Once soundtrack and the promise of another Swell Season album to look forward to.