In a sense, Glen Hansard always was a kind of solo musician. Even though most will recognize him as the frontman and founding member of both the Frames and of the Swell Season, the songwriter started his venture into music by busking on the streets of Dublin as early as the age of 13, far before either of these groups was formed. Considering that Glen started his career in such a way and that he continued to be the main songwriter in his subsequent bands, it’s almost surprising that he hasn’t released an album under his own name before.
The aptly titled Rhythm and Repose paves the way as Hansard’s first full-length solo album. What is interesting about this batch of songs is how they each manage to feel entirely fresh upon listening to them, yet one could also say that the whole of the album permeates with a sort of nostalgic feeling as well. It’s almost as though Rhythm and Repose could have been plucked from a dusty stack of vinyl records dating back to the 60s or 70s. It’s an oddly refreshing sort of quality for these songs to have and one that doesn’t feel intentional or forced in any way.
Bearing this in mind, it may be inevitable to conclude that the record is bound to be considerably detached from Hansard’s previous work, and indeed it is. Similarly to how Glen’s songwriting voice shifted tones between the Frames and the Swell Season, Rhythm and Repose sonically introduces a new, subtler sound as well as another distinct facet of the singer’s persona. Within the songs of subdued longing that pervade the album’s tracklist, Hansard takes the role of a kind of ubiquitous narrator who guides the listener through his stark and realistic visions of life, love, and hope.
Rhythm opens with “You Will Become,” a kind of bleak prelude to redemption complete with a finger-picking guitar style that gives the feeling of an early Leonard Cohen song. Although on paper the lyrics might seem simple, the atmosphere the song provides sets a strong tonal foundation for the rest of the album to build off of.
In fact, the first track is a fitting introduction to the overall theme of the record, which lies mainly in the realm of relationships. While this is far from unchartered terrain for Hansard or for popular music at large, the way in which the subject is handled within this material is far from stale. The songs examine relationships that one has with his or her family, friends, and with life at large rather than simply focusing on the trials of a couple in love.
The record reaches its peaks with “High Hope” followed closely by “Bird of Sorrow.” One feels that these songs stand a notch our two above most of the other songs in the way that they seem to collectively embody a spirit of hope and absolution. It could be this theme that makes Rhythm and Repose such a uniquely refreshing piece of work. “I’m gonna make it across this tightrope, and I’m coming for my prize, no more will I be waiting round while life just passes by.” Glen sings on “High Hope” before the refrain erupts in to the celebratory chorus of a gospel choir. “I’m gonna see you there. There, where we can be natural.”
The album continues with a slew of strong cuts with the uplifting pop-sensibilities of “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting,” the broodingly romantic “Philander,” and an appearance of Hansard’s counterpart from The Swell Season, Marketa Irglova in the song “What Are We Gonna Do.” But the song that highlights the second side of the record is the closing track, “Song of Good Hope.”
If one did view Rhythm and Repose as a cinematic journey through life and love with Hansard as the audience’s guide, “Song of Good Hope” would be the moment when he lets go of our hands and wishes us well until the next time we should meet. As the song and the album at large eases to its finale, one can almost sense the narrator in our presence as he says his goodbyes. “Take your time babe, it’s not as bad as it seems, you’ll be fine babe, it’s just some rivers and streams in between you and where you wanna be.”
What makes Rhythm and Repose an endearing piece of work is how it is entirely unique to Hansard’s previous work, and indeed, to much of the music being released today. Certainly if listeners are expecting to uncover a rehash of The Frames’ Fitzcarraldo or of the Once soundtrack, they might be disappointed in what they find. Glen’s solo debut finds its voice in a medium that at once seems fresh and yet oddly familiar. What’s more, the undeniable warm feeling that resides in the songs presented here makes the experience a rarity in the modern state of music. Much like final song in the tracklist, Rhythm and Repose exists as record of honesty and good hope.
“Watch the signs now,
You’ll know what they mean, you’ll be fine now,
Just stay close to me, and may good hope walk with you through everything.
May the song of good hope walk with you through everything.”
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Highlights: “You Will Become”, “Talking with the Wolves”, “High Hope”, “Bird of Sorrow”, “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”, “Song of Good Hope”