I first saw Fanfarlo nearly two years ago now, opening the 2007 Green Man Festival. It was a pretty idyllic day, crashed out in the sun in the natural granite amphitheatre of the Brecon Beacons on what was, as it turned out, to be the only day when the weather was anything close to habitable. I’ll admit the weather may have had something to do with it – after all it’s much easier to like a band when you’re sundrunk and horizontal and not liver sick and clagged up to the pelvis in shit and mud – but the soft lilting chords of ‘Sand and Ice’, their opening track, stuck with me and their whole set was like a balm. ‘Sand and Ice’ hasn’t made the album but there are 11 tracks on Reservoir that convey that same gentle, easy warmth.
The journey to Reservoir has been a fairly long one, though the band have been releasing material fairly steadily since 2006 – there is an EP (‘Look Both Ways’) and several singles in existence. The reason for the delay is, I imagine, going to become a fairly common one – namely that the band thought long and hard about each deal they were offered and realised that financially and aesthetically, none was up to scratch. Instead, they waited for the right producer to be available (the much sought after Peter Kartis who has produced Interpol and The National amongst others) and decided to self-release the record under their own imprint, Raffle Bat Records. They’ve been selling the album through their website, have recently signed a distribution deal and now settle back and await the slow burn. It’s an admirable, thoughtful stance. One I suspect we’ll see more and more of.
One of things you might have read with relation to Fanfarlo is the relentless comparisons to Arcade Fire (and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!) – both of which are valid if slightly lazy: there are similarities for sure – the uprush and propulsive rhythms of the former (‘Ghosts’ and ‘Drowning Men’ particularly sound very Funeral-esque, in form at least), and Simon Balthazar’s slouched delivery is at times uncannily similar to Alec Ounsworth’s strange yelp – but Fanfarlo are doing such different things to both bands that it soon ceases to matter. They don’t want to save the world with ROCK. They merely want to make it taste better.
It must be said though, the enlisting of Peter Kartis wont have helped: he’s got them sounding huge – not in a sky-reaching sense, more of the depth and texture he has given to their sound. They have always had a strong sense of instrument dynamic, but here the keys, the glockenspiels, the strings and brass (I’m sure I might even have heard a Theremin on ‘Drowning Men’) lay over each in easy layers, all riding on the vapours of Justin’s gorgeous bass sound. At times the rhythm section almost sound like Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. Almost. Kartis was clearly worth the wait. On ‘Fire Escape’ – a relatively simple song instrumentally, considering – a Granddaddy-style wash of keys starts the song off before the throb of the bass comes and it just lifts the song up and away. The trumpets that work with and buoy up the chorus fill out the sound even more but Balthazar’s gauzy vocals still manage to sit atop everything, at times just slightly behind the beat.
The band have said that this concentration on filling the sound was intentional and that at one point Kartis ‘had all six of us in the live room together all strumming acoustic guitars – and then we overdubbed that another few times so I think that at one point we have 30 acoustic guitars playing at once’. I haven’t located the exact moment but the album is loaded with similarly dense passages. Indeed you could argue that at times it’s overkill but I think, on balance, they’ve got the levels just right. Opener ‘I’m A Pilot’ is a case in point – a fudge of percussion and bass is layered with a simple piano figure and strings. As the chorus of ‘kid, I’m a pilot/it’s all I believe in’ fades the strings and guitar blister and the song threatens to split the clouds in a spiralling ‘Day in the Life’ style crescendo, the moment passes though and the track comes gently to a close with Balthazar softly offering to shoulder our burdens and let us ride on his back.
Which is a useful motif as any for Reservoir as a whole. Aside from the lush production and ornamentation and these are simply great songs. It’s been a long wait but it’s worth it. Ease your feet up and let Fanfarlo take some of the burden for you.