A breakup album by a band that is still together, The Swell Season’s “Strict Joy” plays out like a mirror image of its predecessor.
When the songwriting duo of The Frames frontman Glen Hansford and Czech singer/pianist Marketa Irglova starred in the 2007 Oscar-winning Irish indie film “Once,” they portrayed a sort of foretelling of their own future together.
Providing all of the original music on the film’s soundtrack – including “Falling Slowly,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song – Hansford and Irglova drew attention for their real-life relationship while fans eagerly awaited the follow-up, last year’s “Strict Joy.”
Though Hansford and Irglova (who come to the Knitting Factory on Thursday) have ended their romance, they’ve managed a remarkably cohesive record despite its polarity.
With dreamy string arrangements and horn swells setting an orchestral backdrop to acoustic guitar, mandolin, hand claps and brushed drum strokes, “Strict Joy” sounds like it could have been recorded in a concert theater and a backyard farmhouse studio all at the same time.
It juxtaposes the dramatically sad and soulful Hansford against Irglova’s soft, delicate singing.
The album was produced by Peter Katis (The National, Interpol), who carries occasional keyboard duties along with an array of artists who accompany Hansford and Irglova’s four-piece band.
These are mostly sad songs, but hope glimmers throughout, which also reflects the album’s title.
It was taken from a 1931 collection of poems written by Irish novelist and poet James Stephens, titled “How St. Patrick Saves the Irish, Strict Joy.”
While Stephens was noted for the use of humor in his retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales, The Swell Season’s musical interpretation of “Strict Joy” survives the wake of sadness and loss by diving heartfirst into it, retelling love’s demise in various vignettes.
The album’s liner notes are preceded by a photo of Stephens inside the sleeve, and on the page behind the author’s picture is the poem itself.
It closes with the same cathartic wink the album makes: “And we cared naught that these were mournful things/For, caring them, we made them beautiful.”