If time is kind to the Frames, the current swooning over singer Glen Hansard's appearance in indie flick Once will die down without overshadowing The Cost, the Irish rock band's sixth and strongest album. In the film, Hansard and Czech pianist Markéta Irglová engage in cloying musical flirtation via piano and acoustic guitar. But the centerpiece songs, "Falling Slowly" and "When Your Mind's Made Up" — both previously released on the duo's 2006 CD The Swell Season -- sound exponentially better when Hansard lets his bandmates have at them. Johnny Boyle's syncopated drumbeats goad on the larger arrangements and Rob Bochnik's guitar erupts into a stirring apex of precipitous string bends.
The rest of the album shows Hansard's songwriting at its most polished and effective, touching on pedal-steel Americana ("Sad Song") as easily as chilling melancholia ("Bad Bone"). Refinement can also be a drawback; employing the overdone dramatic-build-to-crescendo motif (thanks, Coldplay) leaves "People Get Ready" short on the simplistic sincerity of songs from 1996's Fitzcarraldo, or even 2004's Burn the Maps. But when the feedback squeals away and we're left with quietly thumping toms and Hansard's plaintive voice, it's clear the Frames work that trick better than any of their peers.