Through everything - endless years of being labelled the "next big thing", tours to all the remotest corners of this country and many others, the disintegration of record deals - frontman Glen Hansard has always kept faith with The Frames. As a result, 'The Swell Season' - a collaborative project with Czech singer/pianist Marketa Irglova - is his first album independent of the band. And it's far more than just a stopgap between 2004's 'Burn the Maps' and this year's promised follow-up.
There are few frills on 'The Swell Season'. Recorded in Prague over just four days with a simple, stripped down quartet - Irglova's piano and Hansard's guitar, bolstered by Marja Tuhkanen on violin and Bertrand Galen's cello - the album spans the downward trajectory of a doomed relationship. There's painful yearning in the heartbreaking 'Falling Slowly' ("Take this sinking boat and point it home/We've still got time, raise your hopeful voice"), self-loathing ('Leave') and despair ('Sleeping' - "And all that you've ever owned/Is packed in the hall to go/ And how am I supposed to live without you?").
The centrepiece of the album is Irglova's piano-driven title song, three minutes of perfect melancholy. She has an airy, pure voice which combines beautifully with Hansard's throughout the album, most memorably on 'Lies' and 'Drown Out'. But it's also strong enough to stand alone on (slightly) hopeful closing track 'Alone Apart'.
Perfect end-of-the-evening listening, 'The Swell Season' is a beautiful, soul-wrenching album. For the daylight hours we'll look forward to The Frames' new LP.