*A few weeks ago, I was invited to join the staff over at AbsolutePunk, one of the biggest rock/pop-punk sites on the net, and home to a vast fan community and a very active discussion forum that I've been a part of for years. The offer came in response to my Gaslight Anthem album review (here), and needless to say, I was flattered and excited about the opportunity. This is the first of many reviews I will be writing for them.
ANTI- Records, 2012
But the fame hasn’t come without a price: brought together by the songs and the honesty of their onscreen portrayals, Hansard and Irglová fell in love for real, a romance that was put to the test by a grueling world tour, and one that listeners could hear fracturing, in real time, on Strict Joy. The two held their artistic partnership together regardless, not willing to sacrifice the intense and intimate musical connection they have shared, but if the songs on Rhythm & Repose are any indication, the ghost of what was – and what could have been – still wears on Hansard.
Hansard has been in the game for over 20 years: he served as frontman for Irish folk-rock act The Frames before joining up with Irglová in 2006, but even with nearly a dozen albums under his belt, he’s never released anything on his own until now. The result is one of his best albums to date, fueled by regret and lingering heartbreak, and hits every cornerstone of the sound that audiences fell in love with during Once. In spirit, Irglová is still here too, lurking in the dark crevices of the most bombastic moments or coming to the forefront during the sparsest ones. The haunting opener, “You Will Become,” is a dedication to her and to the love the two shared together, and it serves as an entrancing hook for an album that never lets go. “We talked about talk of a gold ring/When you brought me one step closer to the heart of things,” Hansard sings during the song’s second verse, reminiscing about his lost relationship with a woman who is now married to someone else. It’s strikingly restrained, almost minimalistic in scope, but it hits hard regardless; it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Hansard’s music has always been balanced between bruising emotional crescendos (“Leave”) and frail moments of heartbreak (“In These Arms”). Here, he opts mostly for the latter, building an album on atmosphere and mood rather than on emotional fireworks. That’s not a bad thing, since it lends a deliberate pacing to the record that has been absent on previous efforts, allowing Hansard to build slowly to the grand emotional peaks. Producer Thomas Bartlett wisely keeps the focus on Glen’s vulnerable voice, but he never allows Rhythm & Repose to become a simple voice-and-guitar exercise either, drenching songs in ambient instrumentation that only make them more magnetic. A repetitive electronic blip plays through “Talking with Wolves,” while faux-organ chords provide the context for “Races” before drums and banjo enter halfway through to flesh things out. Hansard and Bartlett fill in the rest of the gaps with cold piano lines, organic backup vocals, subtle string sections, and even blistering guitar solos. All of it combines to turn Hansard’s slow-burn songwriting into spectacle, giving songs like the George Harrison flavored “Maybe Not Tonight” (complete with a sweeping slide guitar) or the jazz-tinged pop of “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” their heartbeats.