Being a huge Frames/Swell Season fan, I've been anticipating this album for a long while now. I can say with a sigh of relief that I'm not disappointed. I really really enjoy "Strict Joy". I'd heard a lot of the songs live, and of course they are better than the studio versions, but it's not really fair to compare.
That being said, here is what I thought:
Low Rising - This is a very strong opening number. People say that it's really Van Morrisonesque, and I suppose that I'd agree with that. Glen's voice on this track is great, and it's got a great hook. My only problem with the song, is the production. I feel like it's been bogged down with too much drone. I think that the song would be better without the brass, and with more guitar. Still, a solid and catchy opening number. 8.5/10
Feeling The Pull - This is a great song. Very folky, with an old time optimistic feel. It's catchy, nicely written, and also it's very short and sweet. It retains the energy of Low Rising and focuses it in a very different way. I do however, miss the moments when played live Glen goes into a nice falsetto and lightly strums the guitar. However, the song is still great without it, and doesn't really suffer without it's inclusion. 8.5/10
In These Arms - Beautiful song, with beautiful lyrics. Glen's vocals are hushed, which makes the song sound almost like a lullaby. The harmonies and piano bits provided by Marketa are gorgeous. The songs beauty is in its simplicity. It's very clean, dark, and yet hopeful at the same time. Fantastic tune. 9/10
The Rain - This song to me, is very Frames reminiscent. It's dark, drum driven, has a prevalent bass part, and it makes nice use of the violin. It's a bit repetitive, but the song itself isn't that long, so you don't get a sense of a one minute song left on repeat. It's a nice tune, not one of the standouts, but by no means bad. 7/10
Fantasy Man - This is a Marketa driven song, and it's great. It has an old medieval feel to it, and almost seems like it is a cover song from the olden days. The harmonies are fantastic, and really shows how wonderfully Glen and Marketa can blend their voices. Glen's part is very soft and understated, yet works extremely well. This song really shows off Marketa's talent. Her voice is like a warm fire on a cold rainy day. Very nice, soft, and welcoming. 9.5/10
Paper Cup - This song has very nice lyrics, and an almost Spanish-like feel to it, which is provided by the lead guitar. It's a soft song, and the lyrics while a tad bit sappy, work well and in no way sound cliched. It's a nice tune with a nice appeasing melody. 8/10
High Horses - The is by far the heaviest song on the album. It's a great throwback to The Frames, and sounds like it could have been off of one of their albums. The song becomes eerily quiet about 3/4 in, and then builds from there into a nice rocking ending. The effect is very nice, and it ends on a chilling note. 8/10
The Verb - This is by far one of my favorite songs on the album. Upon first listen, I wasn't sure if I liked it overall, but I was instantly drawn to the insanely catchy chorus. The more that I listened, the more I realized how layered and truly beautiful the song is. There are so many little aspects of the song that you do not catch on first listen, and the melody gets even more beautiful as the song continues. The climax of the song is met with Glen singing the chorus and being overlapped by Marketa singing her own thing, and the result is a gorgeous blending of melody and emotion that is like candy to the ears. 10/10
I Have Loved You Wrong - This song is so soothing, that you can't help but close your eyes and become engulfed in the music. The enchanting melody is only helped by the subtle instruments carrying the song along like a leaf on a gentle breeze. This is one of the best songs that the group has written, and Marketa's voice suits it perfectly. The song ends with a heartwarmingly angelic harmony between Marketa and Glen, and it is perhaps one of the most beautiful things that I've ever heard. One line is repeated many times, and with each repeat, you can feel it tugging more and more at your heart. 10/10
Love That Conquers - This song sounds like an old bardic folk song. It features some nice little harmonies, but the song overall tends to become a bit repetitive. However, the song is very nice. It's a great song to just relax and listen to. A very safe song with a simple yet nice tune. 7.5/10
Two Tongues - To me, this song also plays very much like a Frames song. I enjoy the chorus, and I like the buildup to it. However, on song like this, I wish that Glen would display the beauty and raw power of his voice, because he stays mostly in his lower register. The piano part on this track is very nice at times, and it pierces through the guitar like a sword, which is welcoming. 8/10
Back Broke - This song is a fantastic way to end the album. It's a quiet song with beautiful lyrics. It's song with Glen hardly using his voice, which makes it all the more effective. Additionally, Marketa's piano bits are very nice, and Glen's soft voice soars over them. The song has a wonderfully dark vibe, reminiscent to a storm cloud just before the rain. It ends the album on a very high note. 9.5/10
Overall, Strict Joy is a true work of art. It seems to me that Glen Hansard walked into the studio and came out with a hybrid album that lays somewhere between The Frames and The Swell Season. The result of such an album, is a wonderful gem that any musician would be proud to add to their catalogue. When the album flies, it really soars. Sure, it may hit some turbulence along the way, but the ride for the most part is an extremely enjoyable experience. The original poem Strict Care, Strict Joy, said "The poet makes grief beautiful," and Glen and Marketa have truly achieved that. The album is a must-buy, and plays like a warm night sitting around the campfire with old friends playing music and telling stories. Buy the CD, close your eyes, and savor it.