(Originally posted at AbsolutePunk.net)
To label Once as merely a soundtrack is a severe misrepresentation. It is a beautiful album that just happens to be sung throughout a film. Yet that doesn’t do it justice, either. Once is a heartfelt story of two musicians desperately trying to determine their places in each other’s lives in their search for true, selfless love.
Glen Hansard, of Irish band The Frames, and Marketa Irglova, a nineteen-year-old Czech musician, form an obvious chemistry as they build their unlikely friendship in the film. His guitar picking and her piano melodies meld perfectly in ballads such as “Falling Slowly” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” as do their voices. Hansard’s earnestness and Irglova’s vulnerability wonderfully carry the expressed emotions that are both beautifully complex and strikingly simple.
The solo performances of each are equally compelling. There is no doubting Hansard’s passion on songs such as “Leave,” although removed from the atmosphere of the film, it is easy to mistake him for simply strumming fiercely and belting loudly. In “The Hill,” Irglova pleads with a haunting melancholy, “Please try to be patient and know that I’m still learning / I’m sorry that you have to see the strength inside me burning.” Her voice lifts with a soft intensity as her fingers run slowly over the keys, weaving precious melodies between the verses.
Production is minimal, allowing the raw power of the characters and the story to shine, occasionally admitting light strings to pull out the emotion. The short, humorous “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” is simply Hansard and his guitar, but even this track reveals part of his character’s history and helps advance the storyline. “If You Want Me” and “Fallen from the Sky” feature simple drum loops that feel as if they could have been borrowed from a toy keyboard, but this only serves to accentuate the innocence and openness displayed.
Part of the problem with the soundtrack, as hinted at earlier, is the fact that it is by default removed from the film and the storyline. It doesn’t help that the songs aren’t placed in the order they appear in the film. The first half of the album is stronger than the second, and by the end the unfamiliar listener may be wondering why these two can’t just figure themselves out and get on with life. That question cannot possibly be answered apart from the film, but this lingering uncertainty perhaps better reflects the struggles of the real world, which are never conveniently and absolutely resolved like the predictable love stories. The love that is strived for here is stronger and more real than that.
Hansard probably hoped to help promote The Frames through the publicity of this film (a few songs from the Once soundtrack were originally recorded by his band), but he also inadvertently created the possibility that listeners would like the chemistry between him and Irglova even better. These two musicians paint a beautiful and powerful story with the simple but intense molding of their instruments and voices, while revealing simple truths and questions about life that have touched the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to engage in the film’s limited release this fall.
New listeners should wait for the DVD release on December 18 for the full emotion of the story, which will easily convince them to also purchase the soundtrack. For those who appreciate the inescapably woven threads of life, love, and music, this is not something to miss.