Throughout the '90s, the Dublin rock band The Frames periodically surfaced in America long enough to release a soon-to-be-lost treasure before disappearing amid public indifference and internal strife. Little-heard albums like 1996's Fitzcarraldo, released under the name The Frames DC and currently available at many used-record stores for pocket change, displayed a flair for outsized drama matched only by the group's crucial knack for pop hooks. Now working with an independent U.S. label, Frames frontman Glen Hansard has unveiled a new weapon in his formidable songwriting arsenal: subtlety. Throughout the new For The Birds, Hansard's intense, bare-knuckle delivery is toned down in favor of slow-burning build-up, with "Headlong" and "What Happens When The Heart Just Stops" gradually finding form and fury within uncharacteristically restrained arrangements. The beautiful instrumental "In The Deep Shade" demonstrates The Frames' intentions during the album's opening moments: Delicately assembled using piano, strings, and a gently picked guitar, the track contrasts sharply with the more immediate pleasures of The Frames' past works. For The Birds' brooding tone makes it a bit more challenging than longtime followers might expect, but it's not like a step away from the group's commercial instincts is going to do any damage that hasn't already been done. If anything, the disc's grassroots release could open doors for sleeper success, ironically igniting retroactive interest in the Frames albums that had broader commercial appeal. However it happens, any widespread attention for this underrated band would be richly deserved and long overdue.

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