Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2009: Number 15

No two ways about it, we live in a post-Funeral world (can we use the 'wake' joke again? No? OK) as far as ambitious 'indie' goes. Fanfarlo might fall squarely into that category - forcefully heartfelt singing, strings, working knowledge of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea - but there's none of the traps many fellow travellers fall into, of mistaking over-emotiveness and overworked orchestrals for soul bearing march. Their approach is far more down home and warm, still reaching for the stars but simultaneously grounded, feeling like traditional songcraft applied to a melodic musical paintbox of livening instrumentation. If that ambition means, say, Ghosts' soul stomp mirrors the Motowny bit at the end of Wake Up it comes across, as savant as it may be, as unintentional.

Besides, it's not as if it's ever a straight take-off. I'm A Pilot's handclap/percussive clank chain gang rhythm might come across as one of those long marches to Valhalla, strings slithering around Simon Balthazar's precisely unenunciated David Byrne channelling dreaminess, before splitting the sky with crescendos as he channels Howard Hughes with "If I stay in this room they’ll remember me for my youth". Not that it needs to be complicated when it could just as easily carry off good honest indie-pop as she used to be, just with a twist. See the excited rush of Luna, except its power-pop dynamic gets derailed halfway through into minor key lushness that comes across as little less sparky but all the more nuanced in its wash of melancholy as the main figure switches from strings to melodica to trumpet, with a theremin whirring away for backup. Drowning Men doesn't seem able to afford to hang around either, an air of desperation surrounding the central figures in the same way producer Peter Katis brought to his previous clients Interpol and The National. Fire Escape borrows Grandaddy's keyboards before a bass-led surge which allows Balthazar's vocals to float and/or emote where necessary. Pleasing whistling at the end too. If The Walls Are Coming Downs carries echoes of Ounsworth in its mariachi brass and mandolin strumalong, the folky melody and sweeping, joyous and oddly summery chorus are all their own. The pensive, sparsely downbeat slow motion balladry of If It Is Growing proves they can pull off sensitivity as much as passion, with a sound as depth filled and delicate as any ballad this year. For all their playful singles and quietly promising development over the nearly three years between first single and album Fanfarlo were right to bide their time, because on the album they sound ready, confident and with room for manoevure in the future while sounding relevant and enthralling right now.


The Walls Are Coming Down

The full list

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