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The Frames: Dance the Devil

REVIEW: The Frames: Dance the Devil
2.23.2002 by Sean

The Frames : Dance the Devil [ZTT Records, 1999]

Two words? Textured gem.

It was December of 2001 when I first heard of the Frames - an Irish quintet who, while being famous in their home country, are altogether unknown on this side of the pond. Early mutterings on bulletin boards blossomed into rave reviews, and I soon arrived at the point where they were on my 'to-buy' list on any record shop excursion. As rare as their albums are here, I eventually managed to track down Dance the Devil, and I later purchased 2001's For the Birds (to be reviewed at a future date) through the Frames' official website.

The Frames come out of nowhere with this invigorating, interesting, whinsome and wholly fantastic disc. The album opens with winding, Middle Eastern-tinged guitar, and its dark accents initially recall old-school Tea Party. Once Glen Hansard's voice weaves its way in, however, the song is transformed into an emotional build-from-silence, whose sad, muttered lyrics rise into a passionate, rocking chorus. Hansard's voice recalls the folk tendencies of Will "Bonnie Prince Billy" Oldham, but on this disc especially, they are unafraid of playing loud - from the redemptive, cleansing wash of "The Stars Are Underground" to the lurch of "Hollaciane". This unique blend of folky singer-songwriter with the occasional, slamming rush works phenomenally for the band. Like Coldplay and Elbow, the group has a terrific dexterity with musical dynamics.

The album's one black mark is "God Bless Mom", which falls into the Sean-always-skips category. Its successive series of builds, paired with the only simpering vocal delivery of the album, is thoroughly off-putting: it is repetitive, unremarkable and annoying. This is more than made up for by the album's numerous highlights, however. "Rent Day Blues", though the jury's out on the Kool & the Gang snippet, is sweet and quiet, with affectionate banjo curls and a mellow bass-line. "Dance the Devil Back Into His Hole"'s epic violin-and-acoustic-guitar reels spin towards a train crash of a finale, pulling back just short of a what would have been a delicious sonic blast. Above all, however, "Seven Day Mile" stands out as Dance the Devil's masterpiece; violin strokes the Baroque sadness of Hansard's lyrics, eventually blossoming into a glowing, golden chorus, whose soaring strings evoke Bach and Irish trad in equal parts.

With Dance the Devil, the Frames have done that rare thing: they've wholly justified themselves as a band. The talent and innovation on this disc is extremely high - and they have secured themselves an eager, whole-hearted fan.

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