Music

The Frames: Burn the Maps

Justin Cober-Lake

The Frames sound like a folk band at heart, but they structure their songs around steady builds, employing crescendos, electronics, and stadium dramatics to outsize their music.


The Frames

Burn the Maps

Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2005-02-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

If the maps are on fire, it's a slow burn, one ignited after a succession of faulty matches had been struck, broken, and dropped. The Frames sound like a folk band at heart, but they structure their songs around steady builds, employing crescendos, electronics, and stadium dramatics to outsize their music. Songs begin slowly, emotion develops, atmosphere happens, and intensity increases. While nearly any song on Burn the Maps works effectively, the album as a whole can't quite maintain its momentum with such structural repetition.

At the song level, though, the group repeatedly shines. "Finally" appears second on the album, but ranks first among the disc's tracks. Vocalist Glen Hansard's lyrics reveal a complex narrator -- a person seemingly comforted by the addressed party's failed attempt to reach heights and afraid to succeed himself, but also comfortable in struggle and aware of his complicity in the problems. The steadily-strummed electric guitar chords set the mood, but the arppegiated sequences develop the tension before the section that functions musically as a chorus opens up space. The fiddle solo sounds beautiful and serves as a transition into the moment when the narrator turns inward.

The Frames' precise craftwork strengthens each track. The group manages to put each detail in its right place, never crescendoing too much or soloing too long or using inappropriate orchestration or anything along those lines. The producers (one current and one former guitarist) are experienced in the studio and they put their knowledge to good use in making the album sound clean, but without letting it become too expansive or pretty.

The production values apply to both the shorter, rougher songs and the more epic numbers, including the seven-minute-plus "Keepsake", which draws at least part of its inspiration from the type of post-rock that's more concerned with dynamics, growth, and mood than with melody or rhythm. The song begins softly, with whispered vocals and few instruments, but gradually loudens to keep pace with Hansard's expressions of turmoil. Electronic fuzz grows and you're embroiled in a mess of noise and frustration. The song grows well, but it just takes too long to do too little. This kind of effort would be better left to the groups at Constellation.

What the Frames do otherwise, though, they do well for the most part. They're formally and technically far ahead of Coldplay (to use an obvious reference point), but they're neither as affecting as Elbow nor as flexible as Clearlake, two bands that, like the Frames, haven't gained the name recognition in the States that they deserve. While the Frames do offer challenging emotional pulls, it's the lack of flexibility that ultimately holds back Burn the Maps from being a fully successful album. The songs are each well-crafted, but too many of them are similarly crafted. In the same way, Hansard writes strong lyrics, but he's consistently disappointed and despairing (even the song "Happy", with its "You're trying to break me down with your tuneless song").

The Frames need to stretch themselves a little, to challenge their own art. They've clearly got talent, but, at least on Burn the Maps, they play it too safe, even if they come off as vulnerable. The music should get them some attention, and will hopefully show up on a movie or TV show at some point, but it lacks the spark necessary to draw in new fans. The album's smart and well-done, but it's just not where this band could be.

6

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image