The Swell Season, Strict Joy
Two years ago,
the Swell Season, consisting of
folksy Irish rocker
and classical Czech
burst into living rooms
around the world
with the surprise indie musical Once.
told the story of two struggling musicians finding each other
on Grafton Street in Dublin
forming a special bond where they play music together and help each other work through their own relational issues
music of Once
by many, as the duo even won an Academy Award for Best Original Song
for the film’s undeniably beautiful centerpiece, “Falling Slowly”.
The year before, the couple met and formed both a romantic and musical relationship before
the moniker The Swell Season and releasing
2006 self-titled debut,
which included many of the songs that would soon be featured in Once.
Now, while no longer a couple,
the two have become an
releasing their sophomore effort, Strict Joy
st like their hit film and
debut album, Strict Joy
of being in love, and
a broken relationship.
While the album covers both extremes of love, the blissful joy and the unbearable sorrow, Strict Joy
does err on the side of sorrow.
“High Horses” finds the two coming to grips that their relationsh
ip is at the point of no return while
song’s composition signals
pless freefall. “The Verb” uses
its restless rhythm to signal
paranoia from a relationship gone sour, and “Two Tongues”
the awkwardly worded
You’re impossible to really read
when you’re talking
with two tongues in your mouth.
Even through the turmoil
there does seem to be a hint of brighter future. The slow jam opener,
“Low Rising” finds
wearing his heart on his sleeve singing poignantly of the need to reconcile from
from their relational past
speaks to his love on his shortcomings in “The Rain” and looks to the
future as the song shifts from minor to major as the rhythm picks up
pace and strings crescendo to the song’s blissful peak.
a wonderful sense of fluidity and consistency, Strict Joy
begins to sound like a broken record as lyrically
it is no different than what
has written in the past, as so much of his songs find him wanting to mend what has been broken.
These emotional redundancies cause the album to really bog down towards the end.
That’s why songs that err on the
sunny side of love
serve as such a welcome change, as “Feeling the Pull”
In These Arms
”, and “Love That Conquers”
you away to a
. “Feeling the Pull” swings with the spirit of
Irish musical forefather, Van Morrison, as the jazzy percussion an
d swiftly strummed guitar sweep you off
your feet. “In These Arms” finds
questioning whether to sacrifice his rambling ways f
or what appears to be true love,
joining him with the gentle and brooding chorus. “Love That Conquers”
serves as the album’s sweetest delight, as the two sing softly together
over a rustling autumnal
not only provides the gentle
harmonies but shines bright as
she sings lead on “Fantasy Man” and “I Have Loved You Wrong”. “Fantasy Man” is a mystical lullaby
guy she just can’t seem to find,
and “I Have Loved You Wrong” is a simply sublime stripped-down confessional that is made all the more endearing
While lyrically the album does get a bit stale, musically, Strict Joy
top notch production
(who has also worked with the likes of the National and Interpol), memorable melodies accented by
beautiful harmonies, and wel
from several other musicians including some members from
besides the two songs sung by
(“Fantasy Man” and “I Have Loved You Wrong”) and the whimsical “Love That Conquers”, The Swell Season
on their new album that
their folk contemporaries
such as Ray
or Damien Rice
can’t do as well if not better. While Strict Joy
does bring a smile or two
s good reason to keep your joy restrained.
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