Glen Hansard's new album, All That Was East Is West of Me Now, resonates with a powerful mix of noise and meditation, sprawl and hypnotism.
In the wake of a world that came to a grinding halt, it had been three long years since Glen Hansard's last record, This Wild Willing, left its indelible mark. Those years weren't ones of idleness for Hansard, as he navigated a whirlwind of creative endeavors. He collaborated with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Cat Power on the Flag Day soundtrack, joined Vedder's side project, the Earthlings, and reunited with Markéta Irglová for a sold-out run of shows commemorating the 15th anniversary of the film Once. Even more, he ventured into the world of acting for the film Cyrano, scoring points from The National's Dessner twins who enlisted him for the project.
However, amid this whirlwind of activity, there was little time for Hansard to focus on his own new music in the presence of a live audience – a scenario he cherishes deeply as a performer who identifies as a live musician first and foremost. So, the singer decided to gather in the shadows, an intimate back-room assembly over five Tuesdays, where a mix of devoted fans, friends, and unsuspecting pubgoers gathered. Here, Hansard, along with the Frames bandmates Joseph Doyle and Graham Hopkins, violinist Gareth Quinn, and pianist Megan O'Neill, embarked on a journey of exploration. The stage, in this case, served as the crucible for dozens of songs and ideas.
The resulting album, All That Was East Is West of Me Now is arguably Hansard's most rock-infused work since the Frames' Burn the Maps era. The album's title signifies a realization that life has more to offer behind than ahead, a survey of the journey traveled and the uncharted territory that lies ahead. While the theme of time passing is central, the album's narrative largely centers on the promise of the future, steering clear of regrets and nostalgia.
The album's recording unfolded in the weeks following the pub residency, under the experienced production guidance of David Odlum, Hansard's long-time collaborator. The process was intuitive, guided by what felt right in the moment. The album features contributions from various musicians, including fellow Frames members, string players, and the ethereal sounds of Via Mardot on Theremin.
The heart of the album lies in the trio of songs - "Sure As The Rain," "Between Us There Is Music," and "Ghost." These tracks explore themes of self-doubt, healing, and commitment, revealing Hansard's personal and musical evolution. The album culminates with the powerful duo of "Bearing Witness" and "Short Life," reflecting Hansard's resolute stance on life's brevity and the call to make the most of it.
As All That Was East Is West Of Me Now draws to a close, Hansard reflects on his journey, concluding that, though he may be facing east or west, he's content in the place he finds himself. There's an air of possibility, a sense of a journey nearing its end, yet not quite ready to come to a halt. Hansard, like a seasoned traveler, knows there are more mountains to climb, more terrain to explore. As he sings in "Sure As The Rain," he's prepared to welcome whatever's next with an open door.
Glen Hansard, the charismatic frontman of Irish rock band the Frames, and one-half of the folk duo the Swell Season, alongside Markéta Irglová, is no stranger to accolades, including an Academy Award for their song "Falling Slowly" from the film Once. He's released several solo albums, including the Grammy-nominated Didn't He Ramble (2015) and continues to enrich the world with his musical talents.