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Fanfarlo Biography

For a band who come from all over, Fanfarlo have an amazing sense of place. Not a specific place, but a place oppressive in its solitude, with a strong sensation that life is elsewhere. And yet still a small flame burns, a tiny flickering symbol of hope, ready to spring into full conflagration in some bright, as-yet-imaginary. Listening to this, the band's supremely accomplished debut album, images of imprisonment and dreams of escape, are legion. Characters are seen pacing rooms that rhyme with tombs; left behind by motherships; not on the team; staring at opaque, mysterious horizons; drowning even. Or else they are setting sail without a backward glance; riding off to a better place beyond some mythical finish line; the walls that once held them having collapsed; the dam finally - inevitably? - bursting. And constantly, eternally waiting; by the radio for a signal; on an island, marooned; in their basement room, for something/anything to come and change their meager lives. Any week now, surely.

Reading that you could think 'Reservoir' is going to be a downer. In fact the opposite is true. In this battle between being trapped and being free it is the sense of freedom that wins, resoundingly. This record, gestated in the dull chrysalis of childhood, emerges into the world a beautiful full-formed butterfly, one of nature's wonders. Indeed it is hard to think of a record so resolutely positive that isn't made by people of faith. And what I said about sense of place; it turns out it is specific actually. Simon Balthazar who writes and sings most everything in Fanfarlo, grew up in Sweden among the melancholy trees and lakes of suburban Gothenburg. It is his life we are looking at, not that you'd know it from the lyrics. "I always try to write accessible lyrics that people will get and understand, but it always ends up impenetrable," he says. Luckily, the inverse occurs with the music.

"I attempt to write deep, serious and difficult stuff, but somehow it keeps coming out as pop."It turns out to be a nice problem to have, and Fanfarlo benefit greatly, with everything on 'Reservoir' laden with memorable hooks and moments. The words meanwhile provide clues and points of entry to a world familiar to anyone who's ever felt powerless and thwarted by circumstance, without ever resorting to feeble literalism. Now based in London, Simon, is joined in Fanfarlo by a fine coterie of fellow travellers, each responsible for adding to the band's wide palette of sounds. Cathy Lucas (violin, keyboard, vox), Justin Finch (bass) and Amos Memon (drums) and Leon Beckenham (trumpet, keyboard) all conspire to ensure that Fanfarlo eschew a defining format, often reaching for less than obvious conclusion to musical conundrums: saws, clarinets, cellos, mandolins, ukeleles, melodicas, handclaps and foot stomps are all brought to bear in keeping things sounding fresh and alive.

'Reservoir' was made over a month and a half with Peter Katis at his home studio in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The band chose Peter because of the great sound he got on The National and Interpol albums, and it turned out to be a pretty good choice. Fanfarlo's previous work - four independent singles released on four independent labels - had, out of necessity, largely been the solitary work of Simon, tinkering away late into the night. Working with Peter was the first opportunity to properly explore what could be accomplished in the studio when everything is finally available to you. As good as they had seemed on Talking Backwards (Fortuna Pop), You Are One Of The Few Outsiders Who Really Understands Us (Fandango), Fire Escape (White Heat) and Harold T Wilkins (Felt Tip), it was as nought to the leaps and bounds they would come on in the few shorts weeks in New England. "I always thought big with this band. Wanting to make music that everyone would love, which always seemed like a realistic expectation, given the response we got to our live performances. But although I hoped a producer might be the answer to flat recordings, it was an amazing relief to be able to say, yes, this is what it should sound like." Cathy is equally enthusiastic about what the producer brought to proceedings, "Peter would find the right sound straight away and just throw it up there [on the mixing desk]. I started thinking that it could be up there with 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' [Wilco's breakthrough album] and become much more than just a series of songs. Ah yes, influences. Simon started out as a teenager with the whole Elephant Six scene out of Athens, Georgia (Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal and especially Neutral Milk Hotel). He dabbled with the periphery of Gothenburg's indie scene, writing psych tunes for his older brother's Beatles-ian words and listening to Orange Juice and Pavement, before discovering a new way of approaching music when first encountering the East Coast sounds of Clap Your Hands, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Beirut, and their progenitors Talking Heads. These influences kind of stick, but whereas much of that music was ruled by the head, the primary function of Fanfarlo definitely operates in, and on, the heart. Throughout 'Reservoir' one is constantly lifted and transported by the sheer loveliness of what you are hearing. 

There is no doubt that all of Fanfarlo are clever and bookish coves, but when they come together to make music, they function on gut level. Again and again the band find ways to mirror the impotent fury of the words, with a trapped and spiralling guitar line, an insistently hammered piano chord, or an ominous stomp, only to then fracture the edifice with a breakout of musical emotion. The fervour with which they play is stirring and becomes infectious; the feeling akin to being underwater too long and bursting for that first gasp of air... which might be appropriate for all the water-y imagery that floods 'Reservoir'. Elsewhere, the songwriting is tinged with Northern Soul, Motown, even Dexy's-ish tropes; the celebration evoked by the driving, propulsive rhythms of, say, Fire Escape, set against the lyrical circumlocutions of Simon's nebulous poetry. Even when they party it seems they have a tear in their eye. So there you have it. Fanfarlo, named for a Baudelaire novella, have turned in a classic debut (in Peter's attic, no less). And now perhaps their lives can start.


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