The Frames


Written by: TL on 26/10/2015 12:04:57

If you've only been into music for say, the last ten years or so, you could be forgiven for not knowing about The Frames. It is a bit more likely that you have heard of their frontman Glen Hansard, who has found more recent fame for his role in the movie Once and for his subsequent stint in The Swell Season and solo work. The Frames, however, while they rarely play together anymore, are one of Ireland's best bands, with a catalogue of six albums behind them, as well as a couple of live albums. They celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band this year, and to mark the occasion they have released "Longitude", a compilation some of their favourite songs from their discography, which has turned out as not only a good place to start if you want to check the band out but as an exquisitely produced listening experience in its own right.

The single caveat is that if you have been around for longer than this website and already have a relationship with the band's songs, you may have some mixed feelings hearing "Revelate" and "Fitzcarraldo", which are included in re-recorded versions. But that being said, "Longitude" as a listening experience is very, very good. While commonly described as an indie-rock band, The Frames have routinely composed songs with an added orchestral element, their style being reminiscent of a mix of the yearning melancholy of early 00's Idlewild material, occasional progressive tendencies akin to Elbow's and some quirky 90's oddness in the vein of Radiohead. And their elaborate arrangements sound utterly brilliant on here while the re-recorded versions have benefitted greatly from advances in recording technology, and from the band's increased experience and the maturation of Hansard's voice.

The A-side of the record is thus incredibly strong, showcasing some of the best songs the band has written. It begins with "God Bless Mom", and oddball of a track which sounds like something from an older Biffy Clyro records, speeding ahead at a fleet-footed pace and delivering one hook in a half-muttered vocal style, the other in an almost child-like, mocking falsetto. Then comes the more straightforwardly blooming ballad "Seven Day Mile", which doesn't sound unlike something R.E.M. could have written, except for the extra delicate arrangements and mix. The soulful instrumentation is showcased with impressive clarity and balance, in the sense that the volume and texture of each separate guitar or violin waxes and wanes just perfectly, weaving compelling atmospheres around the listener and leading your attention along while gradually varying in intensity. The album's first half culminates with the re-recorded songs, the Pearl Jam-like "Revelate", where the electric guitars buzz, wail and swoon triumphantly, and the epic, progressive masterpiece "Fitzcarraldo", which is a dark and enchanting fairytale of a song, where Hansard's progress as a singer really lifts the new version to a whole new level.

The first half of the album concludes with the lullaby-ish crowd-favourite "Star Star", leading into a B-side which is even more eclectic in style. The meandering piano- and violin notes weave around each other beautifully on the instrumental "In The Deep Shade", while "Lay Me Down" provides a taste at the warmer, more folksy and traditional side of The Frames. It is "People Get Ready" that figures as the main fixpoint on this half, however, with the instrumentation growing and growing, eventually setting up for Hansard to break from a spoken word style, into a bit of his well-known, passionate belting, and the climax of noise towards the end is quite grand. Other songs here show off a more experimental side to the band, though, with "Ship Caught In The Bay" dissolving into broken beats and weird electronics around the halfway mark, while "The Cost" crawls bleakly towards a cathartic purging where the vocals and violin wail painfully against the backdrop of depressing guitar chords.

The fact that "Longitude" is a bit of a "Best Of" compilation, though, begs the question how one can fairly review it? Is it fair to praise it for featuring a diverse lineup of superb songs, considering that these have been cherry-picked from a career of 25 years, as opposed to from just a single recent recording session the way normal albums are? Should you perhaps hold it against The Frames that, apart from featuring songs in newly recorded versions, there is only one new song, "None But I", for fans who already own the band's previous albums? These are legitimate questions if you want to nitpick about grade and value of purchase. But let's say you're not already into The Frames: In that case, you listen to this album and you listen to it right now, because frankly, it features some of the most astonishingly beautifully recorded music that's been reviewed in this site's history. The A-side as its own release would arguably be a 10/10 record, as both the songwriting and the production is of the highest calibre, and while the B-side is more curious than sweeping, you can't fault the band too much for wanting to show off their diversity on this kind of release.

Anyway, blah blah blah, in conclusion: You should listen to "Longitude" as soon as possible, and not while you're doing the dishes or hitting the gym or whatever. No, you find yourself your nicest pair of headphones and then you wrap yourself up in this over the course of a long bus ride or an hour on your couch, and then, hopefully, you'll know what's up.

Download: Fitzcarraldo, Revelate, Seven Day Mile
For The Fans Of: Idlewild, Elbow, Radiohead, R.E.M.

Release date 03.07.2015
Plateau Records / Anti Records

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