After writing my previous entry, I thought that it would be a good idea to check what Glen Hansard sounded like prior to The Swell Season. I downloaded a few Frames' records (don't worry: they are all deleted now for reasons which will shortly become clear) and listened to them on the way to and from my Friday MBA lecture. The songs varied from the innocuous to the annoying, with only one song - an instrumental - really finding favour (and typically, this instrumental seems to be completely different from everything else, as if it were a different group playing). It was interesting to note that two songs which appear on The Swell Season (ie the eponymous first album) also appear on The Frames' "The Cost" album, "Falling slowly" and "When your mind's made up".
The latter opens with two electric guitars playing similar but not identical arpeggio patterns, which makes for interesting listening via headphones. The arrangement is almost identical to the later versions, although the 'instrumental freak-out' section is over the top here. I would rate this to be at about 80% of the later, clearer, arrangements. I note that the piano arrangement seems to be note for note the same in all the versions.
On the other hand, "Falling slowly" loses all its charm when interpreted by a band and without female harmony vocals. This initial version sounds very basic, and the overly simple tune is exposed mercilessly. This would rate about 25% compared to later versions.
In other words, the standard rock group setup of The Frames (taking into account that they have a violinist) does not excite my ears. Paring down the sound (and especially removing the drums) and adding the string instruments definitely improves the songs.
Please let me know you listen to a group that plays songs with acoustic and chamber like arrangements. Let not the songs be all fey and magical, such as the Incredible String Band.