Fanfarlo is a 5-piece band from London formed in 2006 by Swedish musician Simon Balthazar. Reservoir is their first full-length album release. Initially, tracks such as “The Walls are Coming Down” and “I’m a Pilot”, made me think the group was a stylistic rip-off of Beirut’s gypsy-folk thing. Even still, after spending much, much more time with it, there are many similarities to be heard, particularly in vocals, as well as the nearly ubiquitous trumpet and violin.
However, Reservoir has something lovely and all its own to offer listeners. The album is sort of a curated mix between a more traditional high energy alt-rock sound (“Harold T. Wilkins”, “Fire Escape”) and subtle yet complex folk-tinged tracks (“Comets”, “If It Is Growing”). There’s also an earnest pop sensibility to the male-female vocal harmonies and the twinkling combination of synth and glock. The instrumental depth and sustained energy of the songs gives the album the kind of unusually cohesive sound that makes for a great debut. The band put Reservoir on the market following its February release for $1 in an effort to spread the word. As the year drew to a close their buzz grew, drawing serious attention at several of the numerous stops on their North American tour (wrapping up December 18), including indie folk darlings Fleet Foxes in Seattle. Otherwise, the album hasn’t really been showing too well in the “Best of 2009” lists now popping up across the internet. Nevertheless, I really love this album and expect a continuation of greatness from the Fanfarlo kids well into the future.
Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is an unusual choice, but warranted. I first heard them live at Outside Lands. They performed sonically tight, yielding and perfectly fitting like drum circles at hippie hill in Golden Gate Park. Upon first listening to their record, I’ll admit I was initially put off by the unconventional song structure, the occasional discord, and range of styles. After interviewing Seth Olinksy, and discovering the group’s original interest in experimental jazz my opinion changed. Understandably, this need for musical explanation to help appreciate their sounds might not only scare many away, but bore or put off others. My change in opinion was not the result of some haughty desire to describe the band as avant-garde or post-modern, but with this new understanding of the dynamic styles which range from experimental minimalism (“I’ve Got Some Friends”) to folksy lullaby (“Phenomenon”). Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free is an abstract restructuring of indie rock composition, lacking singles, and consistent concrete musical structure. Many critics have similarly praised Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion (myself included)for its attempt to redefine our understanding of indie rock. In this regard, both albums have created genre bending music that shouldn’t go unappreciated.