Fanfarlo - Rooms Filled With Light
It’s always hard to follow up an album that was acclaimed across the board. But that’s the challenge facing Fanfarlo, whose 2009 debut Reservoir not only won The 405’s Album of the Year, but also saw them tour across the world playing a number of high-profile shows, gaining plenty of plaudits along the way that culminated in an appearance on David Letterman. Now on Atlantic Records and teaming up with producers Ben Allen and David Wrench, the band promise a more expansive sound on Rooms Filled With Light but what does this mean for those sumptuous melodies that epitomised the first album?
Opening with recent free download ‘Replicate’, this is a song that hints at a more experimental tone. A slow-burning build-up that sits somewhere between Jeff Wayne’s War of the World’s soundtrack and Wild Beasts, it evolves after 90 seconds as the strings come bursting in to remind you that Fanfarlo still know how to write good pop songs. ‘Deconstruction’ continues this familiar feel with its thrusting folk-pop sound, but with added synths and melodic dual vocals. The drums have a harsh tone which feels a little at odds with the sounds, and the track would not sound out of place on a British Sea Power album. There is a tremendously loud crash of drums before the song’s piano-led comedown, which makes sure the listener’s attention won’t stray too far. The Talking Heads influence reigns through on ‘Lens Life’ with its bouncy bass and piano introduction, but it still manages to contain a modern, almost calypso, feel as Simon Balthazar sings: “It’s in my photograph, it’s in my memoirs." After this, it really erupts with a brass section and chanted vocals coming to the fore. Simon’s vocals do feel more forceful than previously, and this adds a charming new dynamic to the band’s sound, none more so than on ‘Tightrope’, a song full of wondrous noise before a Springsteen-esque anthemic tone kicks in. It ends with a whistling solo over a piano, something that is always a dangerous mix, but one Fanfarlo pull off. This is a song to make you smile.
Despite the understated introduction, ‘Shiny Things’ sounds like a potential lead single. Starting slow and heavy with synths and vocals, Simon sings: “Let’s not worry about images, let’s not worry about my control, let’s stop talking about prisoners up against an invisible wall," before the catchy and atmospheric melodies and samples come in like Noah and the Whale dosed up on E numbers. "Now we’re painted so colourfully, we’ll be replaced by someone very soon" and "thinking of shiny things" are the key lines and are delivered with such joy that it’s hard not to find yourself singing along, even on first listen. But it’s not all about the sing-alongs, ‘Everything Turns’ is 2 minutes and 5 seconds of unadulterated piano, glockenspiel and acoustic strumming that combine to create an intimidating atmosphere, complete with gunshot-style synth effects. The band are in more familiar territory with ‘Bones’ – a song that sits comfortably between Local Natives’ folky Americana and The Antlers’ menacing but hopeful soundscapes. Opening with the lines "10 years in a cage, waiting for clarity," a relentless bassline carries it along as it builds first into a classic-sounding Fanfarlo song and then descends into a crescendo of noise, obscure sounds and delicious harmonies.
‘Dig’ gives a knowing nod and wink to 80s synth-pop legends like Depeche Mode and Simple Minds but also retains a freshness that brings to mind the likes of Grandaddy. It even has ringtone-lite sample like ‘The Crystal Lake’ had. But the band’s love of English folk music still shines through and there is a triumphant climax before it finishes all too suddenly. The album’s last (full length) song is ‘A Flood’, not a huge upbeat number but a wonderfully sad song with a mixture of delightfully odd instruments that are all given their chance to shine, the saxophone really does make a difference throughout the entirety of the album’s 12 songs. The beautiful lyrics "Hold out your raincoat, let it fall, let it die, a flood will come here anyway" are, rather fittingly, the final lines on the album. Rooms Filled With Light is quite a short album, but it flows so well and the sprawling experimentation make it a more than worthy successor to Reservoir. We’d suggest the time to let this record light up your room is now.
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