Monday, June 08, 2009

A British Arcade Fire, and other lies

See, that's the thing these days. A little bit of passion and forceful tunnel vision, a couple of non-standard instruments and suddenly it's ruffle my hair and call me Win.

Fanfarlo's chamber pop has been one of the main points of note for those looking for cheap comparative thrills, but their debut album Reservoir proves its own worth in a completely different way. You can nearly see where they get it from on I'm A Pilot, with the marching percussive chain gang backing and insistent piano as Simon Balthazar keeps his keening voice in check as the almost but never quite tasteful orchestration builds up around him, or on Drowning Man's desperate build. Yet this is not music set to go over the top, rather skewered melodies that make their way in their own time. Producer Peter Katis has manned the desk for Interpol, The National and Frightened Rabbit, all bands that believe in filtering passion in their own distinct ways, and the tight coiling and unspooling of the band heightens the sense of disquiet and that something has to be said, not necessarily in the apocalypse preacher's way but as lamentations of a depth that just about matches the way the stories bare their souls and make apparent their hopes and fears.

And these are not the only American bands to be taken in and given this very particular big sound. You'll make note of the way Ghosts rides on a trumpet fanfare borrows a Motown bassline and handclaps to act against the delicate sound of fear; you'll wrack your brain trying to work out which era of David Byrne Balthazar most vocally resembles (it's More Songs About Buildings And Food. Thank you, please come again); you'll note stylistic references, while kept very much in the Fanfarlo idiom, to Grandaddy (Fire Escape), Neutral Milk Hotel (The Walls Are Coming Down) and Broken Social Scene (Harold T Wilkins...). But ultimately the propulsiveness and warmth of the multi-faceted arrangements means that there's always new things to discover. A quiet noise worth making loud proclamations about.

Which is pretty much what we've been doing with Broken Records for a year and a bit now. Their self-released EP and a series of singles ending in a deal with XL showcased a band with seemingly limitless scope in the realms of much that self same Big Sound that the Waterboys' Mike Scott coined, via a Beirut/Arcade Fire passageway, leading up to Until The Earth Begins To Part. Now, one of our Line Of Best Fit editors - Tweedledee, we think - claims he hasn't been able to get more than a few tracks into it before turning it off out of aural desperation. We can kind of see that, not because of the old bugbears about the loudness wars, but because the self-compressed onslaught nature of these arrangements can get somewhat forbidding to the uninitiated. By all accounts live they're a real spectacle, and having heard a lot of the demos we're not entirely sure they've captured the rawness of that experience throughout this album (we're looking at you here, A Good Reason). Then there's the title track, which is still too close to Coldplayisms. On the other hand there's still the underlying dark grandeur, the determination to get the most out of this ambitious set-up and stake their own place in the heart of the storm. Nearly Home crests on Jamie Sutherland's grandstanding anguish and the fiery slow build around him. A Promise's build from delicate piano through Blue Nile bleakness to charge of orchestral noise reminds you these could just as easily be put alongside the Twilight Sad wave of Scottish open-hearted noise - there's a touch of Peloton/Great Eastern axis Delgados emerging here, which can never be a bad thing - as their Montreal brethren, something backed up by Ghosts introducing the pit to Explosions In The Sky dynamics. Wolves takes much the same ingredients and shouts them at the hillsides, although the guitars entering in the second half do threaten to take it into soft rock territory.

Even so, in this company Slow Parade sounds all the more devastating as the last track, nakedly ambitious in its own gradually realised milieu. Broken Records have landed at most of their ambition, and often when they haven't quite made it are so nearly there that it almost makes no difference either way.

Obviously Song By Toad are going big on them at the moment, not least a properly mixed and edited video of a recent home town gig.

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