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Once’s Soundtrack Plays to the Soul

Observer Scene | Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A succinctly emotive portrait of heartbreak and euphoria, Glen Hansard’s record “Once,” soundtrack to the film of the same title, is at once enthralling and saddening. It falls into the listener’s ear with a pulsing admonition to hold close to those you care for or risk watching them fade into the gray and dreary landscape of the ineffaceable beyond.

With titles such as “Falling Slowly,” “Lies,” “Leave,” “Fallen From the Sky,” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” the album feels like a long look backwards. It allows the listener to conjure feelings experienced in fractured moments following the rupture of something beautiful.

One of the truly arresting tracks on the record is “Leave,” a glimpse straight into the gut of Hansard’s despair – a woman telling him that he’s no longer the man she loves. Starting off slow, just above a whisper, Hansard sings, “Hope you feel better now that it’s out / What took you so long? / The truth has a habit of falling out of your mouth / Well now that it’s come / You’ve said what you came to / Let go of my hand / If you don’t mind, leave.” He then repeats the lyrics with increasing intensity until his voice hits the point of a tormented holler. It’s an honest and abandoned moment, resonating more truly than most any other music made these days.

Before his starring turn in the film, you might remember Hansard from his gig as front man of the band The Frames. His partner on five tracks is the less famous, but supremely talented Czech pianist and songwriter Markéta Irglová. The soundtrack is a perfect reminder that while the two star in the very well received film, they are musicians first and actors second. Their vocal skills, both delicate and on occasion pounding, communicate an emotion that is intimate and lingering.

The opening track of the record “Falling Slowly” is perhaps the most powerful collaboration between Hansard and Irglová. Featured in the film’s trailer, the song is quite simplistic on first listen. However, upon closer examination it grips the listener with the rare and moving sensation that heartbreak and sadness, and their dreadful ability to control one’s mind, are never more than a whisper of rejection away. Hansard and Irglová sing together, “Words fall through me / And always fool me / And I can’t react / And games that never amount / To more than they’re meant / Will play themselves out.” In straightforward lyrics delivered in a straightforward manner, Hansard and Irglová have concocted a tune that will likely be played for years to come by those feeling the rush of sadness in the heart, or those who just like listening to really good sad songs.

It’s tough not to compare Hansard and Irglová to the rather iconic duet pair of Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan. Singing similar songs in a nearly identical genre, Hansard and Irglová differ from the Rice/Hannigan duo in that they seem more weathered and affected by their songs. Indeed, they sing as if only to each other, with the intimate exchanges magically recorded onto CD so that the listening public can glimpse a couple’s most personal moments.

If the movie’s anything like the songs that propel it, it’s surely a hell of a flick.

Contact James Costa at jcosta1@nd.edu.