Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Strict Joy

A long time ago, someone who loved music very much told me that when they got an album, they just hoped for one good song on it. I was just getting into music myself, and I was a little shocked. "How pessimistic," I thought. "Why get an album if there's only going to be one song that you like on it?"

However, as I began to compile more and more albums, I started to think that maybe they had been right. I would hear a song on the radio, rush out to buy the album hoping for it to be filled with similar songs, and almost always wind up disappointed. I still refuse to completely admit that my friend was correct in her assumption. With a lot of the albums out there though, it seems to be that there are far more instances in which she was right than wrong. Since I heard her say that, I've spent many years hoping that every album I get will have more than one great song on it. Over the past ten years, my list has included albums such as: Coldplay's "Parachutes" and "Viva la Vida," Jack Johnson's "In Between Dreams," Thrice's "The Artist in the Ambulance," Thursday's "War All the Time," Arcade Fire's "Funeral," and Radiohead's "In Rainbows." There are definitely more to add, but the list is small, and the list of albums where there are more than three or four "great" songs is even smaller. However, today I am proud to add another to the list.

Anyone who has seen the movie "Once" doesn't need me to tell them that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova work well together. Though not romantically involved anymore, they still form the band "The Swell Season" and their music is as beautiful as ever. Their new album "Strict Joy" is without a doubt one of the best albums out this year and made it onto my list with one listen.

No one likes a one trick pony, and lately it seems like that's what a lot of bands have become. There are so many bands I can think of that are immensely talented, but when you buy their new album, you know exactly what you're going to get before you listen to the first song. It's because of this trend that the surprising range of songs in "Strict Joy" caught me so pleasantly off guard. The songs range from Hansard singing alone with an almost Damien Rice sort of sound in some, to the flamenco inspired "Paper Cups," and from the mystical and almost mythical sounding "Fantasy Man" to the flat out gorgeous and sad "I Have Loved You Wrong." Irglova has the uncanny ability to change the sound of her voice to match the emotions of the song. In "Fantasy Man," her voice is soft with an almost gypsy-like quality to it and seems so delicate that it could crack at any moment. In "I Have Loved You Wrong," her voice seems stronger, but retains a sadness as she confesses: "Forgive me lover for I have sinned, for I have loved you wrong." Coupled with Hansard's restrained harmonies, the song is hauntingly beautiful and maybe the best of the album. Despite the pained and sometimes yearning lyrics that may or may not reflect how the duo feels about each other, there is an unmistakable air of hopefulness to the album that ultimately holds it together. Whether it's the lyrics coming around to resemble optimism or the music itself failing to sink to the emotional lows of the lyrics, I can only say one thing to the end result: "You're on the list."


  1. hey unsystematic! i hope you are still writing lots! and i hope you are demanding pay and getting yourself out there. you are a great talent and i love reading your blog. i am so glad you kept going!

  2. Thanks for this. It reminded me how amazing the songs in that movie are. Must..go..get..CD...now! Hope you're well, buddy.