By Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Glen Hansard dropped out of school nearly three decades ago to busk on the streets of Dublin, and he's long since learned how to fill the open air with his voice. He can boom stridently with the brashest belters, while the signature hole in his acoustic guitar — the product of countless pummeling strums — embodies the wear-and-tear of a life lived with outsize emotions. As lead singer of The Frames, Hansard often muses over intense desires and the pursuit of redemption ("I want my life to make more sense," he sang in 1999's "Pavement Tune"), and that's frequently meant bellowing with messianic ferocity.
Hansard's life has taken some wild and mostly glorious turns in the past five or six years: He starred in the tiny indie film Once, which won him and singer/costar Marketa Irglova an Academy Award for their irresistible and now-ubiquitous song "Falling Slowly." The Frames largely gave way to The Swell Season, in which he and Irglova — lovers who soon parted, only to continue collaborating professionally and as friends — performed as a duo, with an assist from Hansard's old bandmates. Most recently, their movie together spawned a Broadway sensation, to the tune of 11 Tony Award nominations.
As a singer who's now releasing his first solo album, Hansard can still make the rafters shake, but he's grown increasingly sparing in his intensity. Particularly on his most recent studio recordings, Hansard has steered frequently toward the slow burn: Unlike many pop singers with large and expressive voices (and even the somewhat more nuanced likes of his long-ago guitar tech Jeff Buckley), Hansard often lets his songs seethe to a stop without giving in to a cathartic release along the way.
A gentle, breezy bummer, Rhythm and Repose (out June 19) is Hansard's quietest record yet; to put it mildly, it spends more time in repose than it spends enslaved by the rhythm. Other than a few showy climaxes in its midsection ("High Hope" and "Bird of Sorrow," to be exact), Rhythm and Repose remains content mostly to seethe lightly, with much of its instrumentation employed for the purpose of subtle shading. Those seeking vein-bulging thunder will have to plunge back into Hansard's rich catalog, or wait to see him command yet another live stage. In the meantime, he still sings of the same things — unrequited longing, mistakes repeated, the enduring pursuit of grace and joy — but they're channeled here through a mature mind in a mellow mood.
Rhythm And Repose will be available to stream on demand from June 11 through June 18, 2012.