The Swell Season, "Strict Joy"
The Swell Season's Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova gained notoriety two years ago after starring in and releasing the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning film "Once." With the arrival of its second album, "Strictly Joy," the duo proves itself as much a real-life band as believable characters onscreen. The lyrics continue to center on relationships, providing a raw and emotionally charged narrative to songs that are sonically more integrated and refined than on the group's debut. The Van Morrison-inspired "Low Rising" layers swaying bass, punchy horns and Hansard's soulful vocals, while "The Rain" should sound familiar to fans of "Once," drawing on more restrained versions of cinematic strings and Hansard's fast-paced guitar strumming. The duo works better together than apart on the album, best-exemplified by the '60s folk harmonies of Hansard and Irglova on "Love That Conquers" and the uplifting "Feeling the Pull." "Strict Joy" maintains the relatability and sincerity that made the soundtrack to "Once" so compelling.-Kelly Staskel