Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music. This week’s post is by C. Ryan Knight, who writes CaPC’s Not Fit for Dinner column.
Ireland may very well have a different go-to acoustic-based musician for the international spotlight: Glen Hansard. It’s been almost six years since Ireland’s stormy but towering Damien Rice released a new album. Other than infrequent concerts and his guilt-ridden song “What If I’m Wrong?” that he did for a documentary, Rice is taking time off.
Hansard has also seen the limelight turn to him after the well-received, low-budget film Once and the highly acclaimed, Tony-winning musical adaptation of the movie. You wouldn’t exactly know it, though, from his new solo album, Rhythm and Repose. The album is produced well, but the production doesn’t feel like it tries to live up to Broadway or big-label standards. If anything, he’s stepping in the opposite direction, and his song “Races” finds him on a path away from fame, hoping to renew neglected relationships. Hansard’s songs still sound like they’re meant to be played in bars and small venues in front of audiences who sing in chorus, spirited by shots of Bushmills.
Hansard’s new album is one to keep in rotation if you’re in the dumps or at the end of a relationship. “There’s a storm, and it’s a ’ragin’,” Hansard warns in “The Storm, It’s Coming.” These songs (even the upbeat “Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” featured below) have the somberness of one going through dark days.
I say Rhythm and Repose is a good go-to album for wretched times since it admits things are turbulent but insists on preserving hope and love. It’s a bitter album, yes, but not so much bitter toward someone (as are many of the songs from Once) as bitter in response to—or in agreement with—the fact that life itself is bitter for distressing stretches of time. It remembers a time of joy, and it doesn’t shy away from locating itself at present in a time of sorrow.
To whomever Hansard sings his new songs—his co-star and former girlfriend Marketa Irglova, his homeland, his friends, or his “god”—he manages to express goodwill and well-wishes. In “What Are We Gonna Do,” Hansard sings, “I don’t wanna lose you / to some … hurt that coulda been helped.” Sometimes there is, however, nothing to be done about hurts powerful enough to end long-standing relationships. “Go with the tide,” he bids someone in “Song of Good Hope,” even if that tide leaves him behind, calling out:
Take your time
It’s not as bad as it seems, you’ll be fine, baby
Just some rivers and streams in between
You and where you wanna be.
In “Bird of Sorrow,” the album’s tour de force, he promises that, “Love is gonna find you again, and you’d better be ready.” That Hansard has given us an album that is far more self-less than self-indulgent amidst heartbreak is something for which we should be grateful.
Hansard’s album struggles to uphold some of the same characteristics of love listed by Paul (1 Corinthians 13) when broken relationships leave you feeling bereft, like Job amidst his affliction. It keeps an eye on hope—but not without first admitting that things are bad and probably will be so for quite some time.
In “High Hope,” Hansard looks to a far-away time when he is “old and wise” and the dust has finally settled. But I’d venture to say there’s already a good bit of wisdom in Rhythm and Repose for the brokenhearted and the heavy-laden.