Release Date: Feb 28, 2012
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
In the lead-up to their long-delayed sophomore album, Fanfarlo frontman Simon Balthazar talked a lot about the band's new incorporation of 80s-style electronics into their music. That seemed a tricky proposition given their debut's bombastic orchestral baroque rock, a serious-minded aesthetic that seemed like it could sink under piles of synths and drum machines. Instead, the new instruments are just another tool in the Anglo-Swedish indie pop band's arsenal of strings, horns and xylophones.
The most perplexing thing about Fanfarlo’s 2009 debut, Reservoir, was that it was in fact the band’s debut. Reservoir maintained a deep sense of dignity and grace amidst its baroque-pop songs, as well as the feeling that these band members were much older than they were. Instead of a debut, it sounded like the result of a band that had been steadily recording and touring for nearly a decade.
Dropping some of the folky elements of 2009's Reservoir, London-based outfit Fanfarlo move in a more synth-oriented, '80s new wave direction with 2012's Rooms Filled with Light. Which isn't to say they've completely abandoned the grand and buoyant pop that made Reservoir such a surprise. On the contrary, working with producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter, Gnarls Barkley), Fanfarlo have crafted a sonically adventurous and somewhat angular album that finds them coming into their own as less Grizzly Bear/Arcade Fire-influenced also-rans and more of a uniquely addictive neo-new wave ensemble in their own right.
In the three years since Fanfarlo’s Reservoir first burst on to the scene and promptly soundtracked every advert that hadn’t been snapped up by Wild Beasts, the folk-pop scene has exploded. Or become more Mumfordised, which might be a more simplistic way of looking at it. It wouldn’t be unfair to ask if there’s even room for any band in that genre to try anything else, lest shareholders’ heads collectively implode at the mere mention of Grammy-mongering.
With their sparkling 2009 debut, Reservoir, Fanfarlo carved out a place in a fantastic year for indie rock as joie de vivre pop-folk darlings. Their yearning, raw-edged orchestral style still remains on Rooms Filled with Light, but they take a more exploratory approach to ’80s-inspired rhythms and lush, charming composition. “Replicate” unveils an album rife with energy, waiting to bubble over.
FanfarloRooms Filled With Light[Atlantic; 2012]By Aurora Mitchell; March 7, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGRooms Filled with Light is the follow up to Fanfarlo’s 2009 debut full length Reservoir, which saw them garner critical acclaim. This time around, the London based quintet has taken a different approach to their songwriting, swapping soft, fey elements for a more defined orchestral and experimental sound. This could be partly due to having Ben Allen on production duties, having produced two definitive albums of the ‘00s, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, amongst others.
Review Summary: “Tightrope, blank sheet, everything could change today”. With the heightened proliferation of means to access such a diverse range of music over the better part of the past decade, it is fair to state that the array of influences available to young, up-and-coming musicians has never been greater. On the flip-side, however, the listening public (as well as critics, journalists and the like) are also more adept at spotting such influences.
Fanfarlo was a band that seemed to always be included in the “Will the hype kill them?” conversation that nearly every young and promising bands get relegated to. Their debut, Reservoir, drew a heavy amount of comparison to bands like Arcade Fire, so the sophomore slump almost seemed inevitable. Yet they not only side-step that trap by making small re-inventions, but they also somehow manage to sound like an essential band in doing so.
Crikey! Indie in white lab coats! The second album from [a]Fanfarlo[/a] sees them using the complex structures and sounds borrowed from Steve Reich and the weirder end of Scott Walker to augment their sparkly guitar jangle as they explore the bigger lyrical themes (science, philosophy, apocalypse) where most fear to tread. So the giddy ‘Replicate’ is a catchy look at viruses, while ‘Lens Life’ explores our human need to document every moment of our lives. Best is ‘Tunguska’, where a velveteen swing guides home a song about a meteorite exploding over Siberia.
I'm glad the term "charm offensive" exists because otherwise I'd be at a loss to find a concise way to pinpoint why it's so hard to fully endorse Rooms Filled With Light, a record of bells-and-whistles baroque-rock that superficially has nothing wrong with it. On the follow-up to 2009's sleeper hit Reservoir, Fanfarlo bring forth songs that are capably performed, professionally produced, and have the kind of perky melodies and implied optimism that would suggest the London quintet get along really well with each other. I'd have no reason to dissuade you from Rooms Filled With Light if time and money weren't limited resources in determining whether a record was worth a listen.
It's understandable that some listeners might have initially passed on Fanfarlo as being something of an Arcade Fire lite, with their debut record, Reservoir, which showcased a similar stock of propulsive, catchy chamber pop. At a time when Win Butler and crew are the reigning kings of the indie rock mountain, the comparisons between these two are increasingly difficult to put out of mind; organs, violins, glockenspiels and other complex instrumentation become accoutrement for a male/female split of vocals. In Rooms Filled With Light, Fanfarlo still don't manage to pull off the majestic, emotional sweep of their Canadian counterparts' best songs—to be fair, few other current groups do—but it does show the British troupe taking significant steps outside their previous parameters and experimenting with a wider variety of musical approaches.
Frustratingly labelled as a British Arcade Fire when debut album ‘Reservoir’ was released in 2009, highly talented five-piece Fanfarlo make a welcome return with ‘Rooms Filled With Light’, which admittedly will do little to undo those lazy comparisons. The team make a shaky start with ‘Replicate’ and ‘Deconstruction’ - two tracks that are very much a case of business as usual for the band which, for the uninitiated, means pretty sounding, guitar-led indie pop backed with strings and brass. It’s not until a quarter of the way through the album that it truly comes to life.
A second album which never dips beneath beguiling. Matthew Horton 2012 Goodness knows whether there's still an appetite for bombastic baroque-rock – even Arcade Fire softened into something more pop on The Suburbs – but Fanfarlo are willing to wave it under our noses one more time. A dangerous three years after their not-bad debut Reservoir, the London-anchored (but Swede-led) band have barely changed their formula, fighting for the big crescendo in every bar and striving for something mysterious and romantic in every key change.
For a band with only one LP, Fanfarlo managed to set rigid fan expectations for its sophomore release. 2009 debut Reservoir was a joyful ode to life and the pleasures of simply being. The English/Swedish pop-folk combo mixed the attitude of dusty-trail travelers with the energy of Wales' Los Campesinos!. Rooms Filled With Light, the quintet's long-awaited follow-up, is lighter on the pop and heavier on ornamentation but keeps enough of the playful antics that garnered the first album such popularity.