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. While many artists view being brandished as “derivative” as an unavoidable nuisance and take it in their stride, others use it as the fuel to fire their growth… One such outfit is London-based quintet Fanfarlo, who have fundamentally reinvented themselves on their Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter) produced second LP ‘Rooms Filled With Light’.
Practically utilizing the “kitchen sink” approach to instrumentation on their superb – if familiar – self-released debut LP ‘Reservoir’, it was difficult not to compare Fanfarlo’s combination of chamber-pop and indie-folk to the likes of Arcade Fire, Beirut and Grizzly Bear. That’s not to say such moments do not exist here, since the jovially bouncy ‘Tightrope’ and mildly tropical ‘Feathers’ could have snuck on ‘The Suburbs’ without anyone noticing, while I’m certain the alluringly quirky ‘Tunguska’ is actually a Beirut tune. However, the folk influences of their debut are now all but gone, replaced by a strong aroma of 80s styled new-wave electronics. Nowhere can this elegant and intricately detailed change in approach be heard better than on opener ‘Replicate’… Whereas ‘Reservoir’ opener ‘I’m A Pilot’ was a stomping, drum-heavy introduction, the entirely drum-less ‘Replicate’ begins with staccato strings and Simon Balthazar’s very Win Butler-esque vocals. An almost tense feeling gradually unwinds, making for an effective opener, but odd choice as single.
The clear objective of ‘Rooms Filled With Light’ is to meld these newfound electronic tendencies with the quintet’s disparate musical weaponry. The results are mixed, with more success achieved when the tempo is upbeat and multi-instrumentalist Cathy Lucas is deployed to provide extra vocal harmonies… The aforementioned ‘Tightrope’ is one such example, as is single ‘Deconstruction’ and the quiet-loud dynamics of ‘Lenslife’. Nowhere near as instant or accessible as its predecessor, the melodies are often subtle here, choosing to unravel slowly rather than forcing themselves into one’s subconscious. The main concern is that the electronic components too often drive such melodies, instead of complementing the baroque instrumentation to reach memorable heights… Even pleasant tracks which lean on the poppier side of the spectrum, lack that killer hook to take them to the next level. It is here where dialing down the tremendous horn breaks, or under-stating Justin Finch’s neglected bass-lines are both a blessing and a curse, depending upon the individual track.
Despite the obvious influx of keys, synths and samples, perhaps the most telling element of ‘Rooms Filled With Light’ is its methodically paced tracks… Two in particular: the meandering ‘Bones’ and gorgeous pseudo-closer ‘A Flood’. The former is simply mundane and not worth investing in, while the latter’s boy-girl harmonies and alluring slow-build is the album’s genuine pleasant surprise… In fact, it is essentially a validation of the direction which Fanfarlo have chosen to follow. Make no mistake about it, the reinvention attempted here is of such a high degree of difficulty that even seasoned veterans would struggle with such amplified ambition. To that extent, ‘Rooms Filled With Light’ is more than an interesting transitional release, it is a bold and moderately successful grower which will reward the patient. If they can somehow harness the lessons learned from this experimentation, reduce the filler, and replace it with their debut’s lush and soaring orchestral arrangements, then Fanfarlo could do more than shake off the “derivative” tag, they could – dare I say it – release a classic!
"So come on let's dissect it, let's cut it up 'till it's gone.
Let's break it up into pieces and throw away what we don't understand.
It comes together again, it comes together again somehow".
Recommended Tracks: Tightrope, A Flood, Deconstruction & Feathers.
This album was a bit of a let-down compared to Reservoir. The rustic approach to that album was just so full of warmth and personality that any shift in style was bound to produce something comparatively lifeless.
There're no equals to "I'm a Pilot", "Luna" or "Finish Line", for one. It's still good though, but I just take issue with the direction; they should have exploited the little niche they'd carved for themselves a bit more. Maybe by taking a year or two more just to really rinse out a truly great album.
At the end of the day Stranger, I guess I agree that this album does not compare to its predecessor (which is a 4.5 for me). But I'm unsure I agree that they could have bettered it had they kept going down the same path (recalling that their debut was a long time coming & quite a few singles had already been released over the years).
While it still may not come to anything, I guess I repeat what I said in the last paragraph of the review: "If they can somehow harness the lessons learned from this experimentation, reduce the filler, and replace it with their debut’s lush and soaring orchestral arrangements, then Fanfarlo could release a classic!"
Understand where you're coming from... I guess that's the part that isn't easy... But hey, making a classic has never been easy & the fact that this band has the potential to, is only a small part of the way to delivering on that promise.
I actually like them pretty equally, though I would say I prefer Reservoir if I had to choose (but only because it has Fire Escape). I do like this though, and I'm glad to see it get a review. I'm surprised it didn't have one yet, honestly.
Porkchop, I'd go 1 step further & say I'm surprised at the general lack of ratings here for this band. It's interesting you like them around the same, as I think they're quite different. Would you agree with that.
Yeah, nice comparison clercqie. The lead singer of this English band is actually a Swede, so while he has an English accent now, I think you can hear a few inflections here & there which add something just a little different to the mix.