“Reservoir” is the debut album of Fanfarlo, a band led by Simon Balthazar, a Swede established in London. It was initially released in February of 2009 on the group’s own record label, Raffle Bat, released again later by Canvasback, an Atlantic subsidiary. We explain this because exactly three years have passed between their first album and the second, “Rooms Filled With Light”, which has just reached the shops. This time lapse may seem long to some, in this age of quick consumption. In theory, this work should have come out much sooner but, last summer, in an act of honesty, they announced that they had to cancel several of their scheduled concerts because they weren’t ready to present their new songs to the public. They preferred to take things calmly and give their work the best possible finish.
After two advances and a tour last autumn, fans can be happy because “Rooms Filled With Light” is ready to quench their thirst. The album has been produced by Ben H. Allen (known for having worked with Animal Collective and Deerhunter, among others), confirming that Fanfarlo know how to find good company; the producer for their debut was Peter Katis, the person responsible for the sound of The National’s “Alligator” and Interpol’s “Turn On The Bright Lights”.
It’s easy to establish connections with the songs on “Rooms Filled With Light”. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, when many people heard Fanfarlo for the first time, they considered them to be the British answer to Arcade Fire (there were some who even thought that the similarity was more than mere coincidence). There is nothing wrong with certain songs sounding like one band or another. “Replicate”, for example, is a fabulous song with exquisite strings that call to mind Owen Pallett at his best, but the problem starts when influence becomes mixed up with imitation, and Balthazar begins intoning just like Patrick Wolf. The same can be said of “Lenslife”, half of the indie world has plundered the legacy of the Talking Heads, all right, but taking it to an extreme and trying to be David Byrne is something else. The leader of Fanfarlo has his own voice, and we would have preferred that he take more advantage of it, like on “Bones”, where the band sounds much more personal and intimate.
Having said this, one should focus on positive aspects, because there are some. The parallels with Arcade Fire are still there, but perhaps to a lesser extent. “Deconstruction”, which is closer to that 90s-feeling indie pop already embraced by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, has that “Oh!” that is so Win Butler. What they do seem to have dropped is the epic quality to their beginnings, “Tightrope” doesn’t try to be “Rebellion: Lies” as much as “Keep The Car Running” does. They also appear especially inspired in the folkie “A Flood”, which is as elegant as any song by Noah And The Whale (with whom they seem to share their desire to be heard on British radio). Another element that they use to propel the songs is female back-up voices, which are also present in “Reservoir”, giving the best results in “Tunguska”, which is seasoned with wonderful woodwinds and a very 60s rhythm. Even the interludes turn out nicely, like “Everything Turns”, made up of pianos, keyboards, and gentle guitar plucking.
Fanfarlo continue to have a fine hand for creating catchy, effective songs. They once again call upon diverse instrumentation, but can never be accused of being baroque. If they learn to control their impulses when it comes to rendering homage to their reference points, and they stop braking so suddenly, they will finally be able to take that leap in quality that is expected of them. They have potential and there are moments of greatness and beauty here, such as “Feathers” and “Replicate”.