Category Archives: fanfarlo

RESERVOIR by fanfarlo

by Gordon

Pitchfork: N/A          Rolling Stone: N/A          Metacritic: 72          Spin: N/A

 

Released: September 2009
Tracklisting:
  1. I’m A Pilot
  2. Ghosts
  3. Luna
  4. Comets
  5. Fire Escape
  6. The Walls Are Coming Down
  7. Drowning Men [LISTEN]

  8. If It Is Growing
  9. Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for a Very Long Time
  10. Finish Line
  11. Good Morning Midnight

   If a few months ago you hadn’t heard of the up-and-coming, London-based Fanfarlo, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But since then, if you hadn’t at least come across some sort of soundbite, whatever the media, it would be somewhat shocking, but moreso, unfortunate. I can think of few artists/bands whose debut album parallels the musical caliber of Fanfarlo’s Reservoir, and of which I was fortunate enough to experience in the moment of its initial release (Fleet Foxes also comes to mind). The level of production, and more remarkably, degree of musical evolution and self-awareness found on this, their first album, is a charm typically reserved for an artist’s third or fourth album.

   “I’m A Pilot” opens the CD, growing from thumping percussion to the sleepy vocals of frontman Simon Balthazar as a heavy backbone of piano and bass come in. Soon with the addition of a glockenspiel, a few cymbal crashes, and some sweeping strings and background vocals support from Cathy Lucas, the only female presence in the band, the track becomes a truly memorable and promising first impression. It serves as an equally appropriate statement on the album and the band themselves: mellow but anthemic; daringly explorative but faithfully melodic.

   “Ghosts” continues as a slightly more upbeat (not to be confused with poppy) tune that switches back and forth between restrained and full-on indie rock, at times showcasing their ensemble collaborative abilities in playful trumpet-dominated instrumentation. “Luna” follows even more aggressively, for the first half at least. Pounding drums and bass support a more assertive Balthazar, then back off to bring forward strings, light strumming, trumpet and melodica in a pleasant lull of a finish.

   “Comets”, perhaps the loveliest (mostly) quiet track on Reservoir, opens to the light strumming and softly sung vocals of Balthazar, a spacey aura filling the background. After a trumpet solo halfway through (by now the instrument is truly starting to grow on me), the rest of the cast joins in for a more full-bodied close that rallies, “When you look at the horizon there is always something ducking out of sight/ When you’re looking at the treetops and they’re scratching out their patterns in the sky”. “Fire Escape” stays fast-paced, happy, and rich in instrumentation throughout.

   A recent radio-adopted tune has been “The Walls Are Coming Down” (video here) which, though previously a lesser noticed song on the album for me, has more recently impressed upon me the degree to which it displays Fanfarlo’s strengths in creating well-structured, thoughtfully-penned songs that both showcase their collective playing as well as the standalone qualities of each of the many instruments that comprise their sound.

   “Drowning Men” was an instant favorite for me, drawing off of simple chords and starting right into a fast-paced bass/piano combo that, when coupled with Balthazar’s vocals, could confuse even an avid Arcade Fire fan as one of Butler’s own pieces (I’ve seen it happen firsthand). A combination of deep and high strings draw in more intensity, Balthazar singing the particularly fascinating line: “We can still afford to not make sense at all,” the song then cotinuing to climax as he lets out a handful of passion-filled belts before falling back into a peaceful lull sounding something like Sigur Rós’ “Andvari”. (That’s the little sister of Sigur Rós frontman Jón Þór Birgisson on the Reservoir cover by the way, whose name, Sigurrós, is the namesake of the band).

   The vastly more mellow “If It Is Growing”, similar to “Comets”, strips the layers away to reveal a subdued, beautiful undershell of a song, the most acoustic on the album (other than closing track “Good Morning Midnight”, which is nothing but guitar-plucking and well-placed background support). The following track, “Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for a Very Long Time”, has since replaced “Drowning Men” as my favorite, drawing me in with its ability to transform its acoustic underbelly into a hammering, immensely catchy chorus and later an even catchier and hammering finale, the band in instrumental and vocal unison as they belt, “They sail the same strait! They sail the same strait! They sail the same strait, turn the lights on again” (you’d have to be there). Second to last song, “Finish Line”, is a relatively light tune that accomplishes the same kind of happy balance between mellow and upbeat that’s become almost a theme for the album (if that description seems a bit of a cop out, it’s getting harder to talk about these songs in an illustrative or quantifiable way).

   Comparisons to the likes of Arcade Fire and Beirut aren’t too far off, replacing some of Win Butler’s angst with Balthazar’s melancholy, and Zach Condon’s gypsy folk with more subdued instrumentation. What’s most remarkable about Reservoir is that it exhibits the refined and manicured songwriting talent that is usually referred to as growth, though in the case of this fledgling band, can only be described as a starting point. What this means in terms of Fanfarlo’s growth in the future, I’m not sure, other than that I’ll be twice as eager and twice as hopeful to find out.

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top ten albums of 2009

by Gordon
10. LIVING THING by peter bjorn and john

 

I Want You! [LISTEN]

So much more excited waiting for a follow-up to Writer’s Block than I was upon finally hearing it, but you know, there’s still hope. It doesn’t suck, but I wish they’d released the two albums in reverse order.

9. DEAD MAN’S BONES by dead man’s bones

My Body’s A Zombie for You [LISTEN]

This is a band/album few have even heard of, but this Halloween-inspired record from Ryan Gosling and friend Zach Shields, recorded with a children’s choir, is a bold and fresh first creative effort from the two, who describe their influences as Disney haunted mansion, doo wop and 60s girl groups…who can knock that?

8. NOBLE BEAST by andrew bird

Fitz And the Dizzyspells [LISTEN]

As a more recent Andrew Bird fan, I fell in love with Armchair Apocrypha and subsequently his earlier albums. While this one didn’t hit me like his previous, it’s still got Bird all over it, and that’s not bad at all.

7. DRAW THE LINE by david gray

Fugitive [LISTEN]

For a hardcore Gray fan, It may not boast his best tracklisting to date, but it’s not too far off. His songwriting and piano-guitar combinations are still strong on this one.

6. WHITE WATER, WHITE BLOOM by sea wolf

Wicked Blood [LISTEN]

I was a little disappointed with what I see as a step back on this sophomore effort, but seeing as Sea Wolf is still a fairly new band that should be experienced by more listeners, it deserves a nod.

5. VECKATIMEST by grizzly bear

While You Wait for the Others [LISTEN]

Their second full-length album isn’t really a venture into anything new, but sounds close to what you’d expect from the increasingly popular group: bolder, louder and, dare I say happier?

4. FAR by regina spektor

The Calculation [LISTEN]

She’s back with the same great kinds of songs that have grown her popularity to where it is now: sad lullabies, poppy anthems, and everything in-between.

3. WOLFGANG AMADEUS PHOENIX by phoenix

1901 [LISTEN]

Yes, there are arguably more talented musicians lower on this list than Phoenix, but damn it, if I don’t just love listening to some of this band’s songs more.

2. I AND LOVE AND YOU by the avett brothers

Laundry Room [LISTEN]

While longtime fans may not call it the brothers’ best album to date, it’s pretty undisputedly a great one, offering some of the best tunes I’ve heard come from the band.

1. RESERVOIR by fanfarlo

Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for A Very Long Time [LISTEN]

How could such a new (and largely unheard of) band produce the best album of 2009? I don’t know, but they did, and it’s because they’re so new and unheard of that they deserve the top spot.

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Filed under andrew bird, david gray, dead man's bones, fanfarlo, grizzly bear, peter bjorn and john, phoenix, regina spektor, sea wolf, the avett brothers