The Frames – The Cost

The Frames
The Cost

I often hear comments about what people think is wrong with today’s music industry but what is rarely ever touched on is the listeners. Oftentimes, I feel that today’s listener treats music like fashion where it’s all about the image and the latest trends. This is incredibly unfortunate because genuinely great bands like The Frames can go unnoticed for years while the latest trendy band can sell out shows. What happened to enjoying the music for the music? Who cares how you think others might judge you based on your record collection? Music is not a piece of clothing, it is something that is part of you and that you immerse yourself in and enjoy on an emotional level. Or at least you should.

The Frames have been around since the early 90’s and their career has led them to become highly influential in the Irish music scene. From listening to just a few tracks on their album Setlist, which was recorded live in Dublin in November of 2002, you can begin to feel the power of their homeland audience. Especially in “Rent Day Blues” where the crowd finishes one of front man Glen Hansard’s lyrics. The band also sounds like they are eating it up and playing off the energy and connection with their fans. It is this genuine love for the music that makes them not just a good band, but a great band. I saw them live a couple years ago and there was only a small group of fans crowded around the stage. But the band played their hearts out as if they had thousands of people hanging on their every note. They delivered a performance so amazing that I get all caught up in the moment each time I listen to the recorded versions of the same songs. This kind of emotional connection is very rare among bands these days.

In their sixth studio album, The Cost sees The Frames lowering the energy level a few notches from their undeniably amazing 2005 release, Burn The Maps. Their latest effort, which Hansard has said is “their seventies folk record,” definitely leans more towards folk than rock and displays a quieter quality that is reminiscent of For The Birds. Opening the album with only Hansard’s voice over sparse acoustic guitar in “Song For Someone,” it’s immediately obvious that this album has a different focus than some of the more violently rocking efforts of the past. The song does see some classic Frames moments where Hansard begins to let his voice loose among Colm Mac Con Iomaire‘s lush violin arrangements. But he doesn’t quite achieve the “live” effect and manages to keep himself under control.

“Falling Slowly” is an easily accessible track full of sweeping cinematic vocals over driving guitar, piano and panoramic string arrangements. It has always been difficult for The Frames to find their way toward new audiences through radio play but “Falling Slowly” as well as “People Get Ready” could have such potential. “Falling Slowly” also appears on Hansard’s solo album, The Swell Season, with Czech singer and multi-instrumentalist Marketa Irglova. While this song is certainly one of the attention grabbing tracks on The Cost, it lends itself more to the quietly emotional and heartfelt arrangement on the solo album rather than the more grandiose version.

One of the best songs on the album, “Sad Songs,” has Glen Hansard channeling the voice of Cat Stevens and moves in the right direction towards achieving the “seventies folk” sound that the band was looking for. With unbridled fiddle, subtle Americana-influenced harmony and a classic seventies-style guitar motif, this song helps to hold the album together and keep the collection from slipping dangerously close to monotony. The title track is another one of the great tracks with a slow-core, darker tone fed by fuzzed out electric guitars and violin piercing the darkness with a melancholy beauty.

Among the enjoyable moments, there are areas within the album that are not so stellar like the ending in “True”. The song starts out as an introspective ballad with little more than vocals over a sparse piano and later joined by minimal percussion. Then in the last minute, Hansard engages in throaty screaming over female backup singers melodically chanting a few pointless lines, which actually ends up pushing the screaming to the background and completely ruining the song. And I find the windshield wiper-like squeak throughout the entire backdrop of “People Get Ready” to be more of an annoyance than a welcome addition.

The Cost is hardly a poor album – in fact it’s a quite good album – but after the release of so many gems, I find it difficult for it to completely measure up to the stiff competition. This is actually a compliment to a band with a solid catalog that they should be proud of. There are many moments of brilliance on their latest release and Mac Con Iomaire’s violin arrangements shine as always but unlike some of their previous albums, it feels more like a collection of songs rather than a full beginning to end experience. Instead the album rides along on little shift in tempo and lacks in the raw passion that makes this group so unique, which is uncharacteristic, and honestly, not something I would have expected of a Frames album. So if you are not a die hard fan and are instead new to The Frames, go check out their 2005 release, Burn The Maps an album that intelligently blends the gloriously dramatic noise of Dance The Devil with the emotional intimacy of For The Birds for an experience that will have you salivating for a live performance.