There’s a song on Rhythm and Repose, Glen Hansard’s first solo album, whose name is not just a song title but also a statement: “The Storm, It’s Coming”. The song arrives like its own warning, and it’s worth noting that it falls directly in the middle of Hansard’s new record, serving as a summary of the tense anxiety throughout the first half of the album or a warning of the dark storm looming in the second.
Much of the drama and tension amidst Rhythm and Repose functions similarly: Anticipatory or after the fact, the songs are either bubbling up or simmering down. For Hansard, that means more of his classic, slow-building full-band arrangements (“High Hope”, “Bird of Sorrow”) or gentle, sparse singer-songwriter moments driven by a single piano or guitar, gently accompanied by strings (“Races”, “Song of Good Hope”). Songs like “The Storm, It’s Coming” and “What Are We Gonna Do” look ahead and see trouble; before it’s even on the horizon, they look ahead and can feel the storm brewing. “What are we gonna do/ if we lose that fire,” Hansard wants to know, nervously. He’s looking towards the future, thinking problems into reality.
On the other hand, “High Hopes”, “Maybe Not Tonight”, and “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” wallow and settle into the consolation that after the storm has come and gone, things are going to be all right after all. And so, while Rhythm and Repose dives further into that same sense of turmoil Hansard has been exploring and toying with for most of his career, it also finds comfort in the type of well-earned contentment that years of struggle and unrest can provide. Hansard takes his lover out for one more slow dance in “Maybe Not Tonight”. He wants to do right but not right now; he doesn’t care whether the storm’s coming or if it’s already passed, so he sways and stays under the moon and stars, just a little bit longer. He’s proud to open himself up on “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”, and he only asks that his anonymous lover try to do the same. With its relaxed groove and inviting, careful arrangement, “Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting” is a warm blanket of a song, echoing the equally cozy “Love Is Making Its Way Back Home”, released earlier this year by Josh Ritter, Hansard’s old mentee. These are songs to keep old lovers warm, miles away from any storm.
But Hansard can’t fully let go and show himself either. The balmy peace of “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” is put to a sharp rest by the nervous, paranoid “What Are We Gonna Do”, the very next song. Indeed, Rhythm and Repose is mostly an anxious record, often times living in its own head, creating drama when there isn’t any, looking for trouble if things are going too well.
In the album opener “You Will Become”, Hansard sings the whole album in one line, looking back on what could have been in an ending relationship: “We talked about talk of the gold ring/ you brought me one step closer to the heart,” he sings–and staggers until finishing the line–”of things.” Hansard’s proclamation in “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” that we should open up and show ourselves is a challenge that the men and women in Rhythm and Repose are struggling mightily to live up to. They can’t experience the world, and each other, without experiencing the moment; they can’t open up to each other without first accepting that they should open up at all. And so to talk about talk of the ring seems achievement enough, but the delivery of the next line stings, the long pause after “heart”: It’s the sick, brief joke that someone could actually be brought closer to one’s heart, or another’s heart, until Hansard finishes the line in a sad, vague disappointment, because in the end, he’s only brought closer to the flawed, mysterious “heart… of things.”
Rhythm and Repose is both the desperate cry of a young man with everything to prove and the calm, slow pride of an older man who’s been through it all. It’s the rare solo record that tries on new clothes while still making sure the old ones fit.
Essential Tracks: “High Hope”, “The Storm, It’s Coming”, and “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting”