Dublin's Frames have made three albums for major labels since 1991, but I have no recollection of hearing about any of them. So on the strength of their new For the Birds, on Chicago's Overcoat label, I checked out some of the earlier stuff, and after repeated listens finally figured out what I'd been missing. Front man Glen Hansard is a terrific songwriter with a gorgeously quavery voice, but the production on those records rendered his songs standard issue alt-rock. For the Birds, on the other hand, is a work of excruciating intimacy, capturing every drawn breath and searing wail of feedback in the same detail. Although the folk-tinged sound isn't what the masses normally associate with recording engineer Steve Albini, he's partly responsible for the album's breathtaking feel; he recorded it in an Irish country house and at his studio here. Colm Mac Con Iomaire's striated violin and Dave Odlum's sturdy but elastic guitar--his arsenal ranges from the aforementioned feedback to brittle folk arpeggios--interact conversationally while drummer David Hingerty and bassist Joseph Doyle subtly raise and lower intensity, and Hansard sings with a charismatic earnestness, embracing missed notes and cracks--so no one will be surprised if I say he resembles Will Oldham on something like the fragile "Lay Me Down." But he never lets quirkiness get the better of discipline, and that's what makes the album so striking: it sounds like an impromptu performance given for close friends in which every piece is perfectly in place. Tuesday, December 4, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. Wednesday, December 12 (with the Kingsbury Manx), 9 PM, the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia; 773-227-4433.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Patrick Glennon.