Burn the Maps
he fragile gleam of a desert campfire cramped against the sky. Glen Hasnard’s parched voice has a way of speaking to it. He summons the light out of distance, leagues of sand and the grotesque mockery of the miles. And, that oasis, that crackled spark that swallows the horizon and quickens his pace, that pumping flame in the distance, well, Hasnard has approached it for you with The Frames’ latest record, Burn the Maps.
Their first studio effort in over three years, Burn the Maps finds the Frames replacing lead guitarist Dave Odlum with Rob Bochnik, a former recording engineer, and sans Dave Hingerty on drums. Of course, for the Frames, all these myriad changes are their normalcy; the band has garnered as much critical notoriety over the years for changing line-ups and record labels as it has for its suffocating sound. For all of that, as long as they lead with Hasnard as songwriter/vocalist and Colm Mac Con Iomaire as violinist, their continuity remains intact. Hasnard sometimes sounds like the frontman for a metal band, drugged and sedated with the weight of his broken spirit and forced to adjust to the circumstance. His voice drags his songs as by a leash, tugging and releasing at each corner and half-stop. On Burn the Maps, an album for album lovers if there ever was one, the sort of record which lacking a single inclusion or pumped past the breaking point with one more aching moment, would never hold under the strain, he’s concentrated his angst and jagged pain into a statement that refuses solace.
The album moves in gasps and groans, with a steady flow to its twelve songs that weaves together like a symphony. Not so much bend-and-don’t-break as fracture-and-heal-yourself-anew, their songs press the pressure points behind their transitions. Rarely content to slip under the pull of fast/slow dynamics, as a simple dichotomy at least, the Frames seem to know just when to let you in on the secret. Check the way opener “Trying” quickens its pace just slightly with the addition of stately piano, and then retreats under the parsed glow of its background vocals. The change in pace is subtle and almost negligible, and yet its mellow lure propels the song beyond the gloom.
Beginning with the buried romance of “Trying,” Burn the Maps begins a four-song sequence that perfects these tenuous dynamics. The track’s feathered beat and distant cacophony mounts towards it close, but it’s balanced on a hazy, almost inert acoustic guitar. From there, the EMO-tinged “Fake” staggers through the door on drunken gangly guitar and rebuke, pausing to question faithlessness in the face of a new love’s falsity. There’s anger and there’s accusation, but mostly there’s just the acknowledgement of what can never be again. The music’s challenge is voiced through Hasnard’s most haggard delivery, and the pairing works wonders.
From there, “Sideways Down” is one of the album’s more electronically-tampered tracks, beginning with a stuttered machine-beat and insistent guitar. As a limber bass line gives out to Mac Con Iomaire’s strings and a stirring requiem chorus, the band charges into the distorted froth of “Underglass,” spit-fired with fury and guilt. Perhaps the equivalent of an EMO-Sigur Ros, whatever that might conjure for you, these songs find the band at their earthiest and most aggressive.
Many of you will find Hasnard’s lyrics a bit maudlin. Part of me can’t blame you; the man lives by the dying light, he does. Of course, when paired with music of the sophistication and heady weight of Burn the Maps, you could almost read Where the Wild Things Are against their deep scar and create a new kaddish. Hear all of this in the myriad veins it traces, against those unknowable blanks in its expression, and remember that welcome-home image: the pursuit of something bent past the horizon.