Fanfarlo makes some bold decisions on their new release, and it pays off surprisingly well.
Fanfarlo was a band that seemed to always be included in the “Will the hype kill them?” conversation that nearly every young and promising bands get relegated to. Their debut, Reservoir, drew a heavy amount of comparison to bands like Arcade Fire, so the sophomore slump almost seemed inevitable. Yet they not only side-step that trap by making small re-inventions, but they also somehow manage to sound like an essential band in doing so.
While Reservoir invited those Arcade Fire comparisons years ago, Rooms Filled With Light occupies some sort of strange middle ground between the distinctly indie narratives of Bishop Allen, the oddball approach of Talking Heads, and the classy artfulness of Grizzly Bear. While Fanfarlo never surpass any of those bands’ best records with Rooms Filled With Light, they come admirably close on just about every track, with a very select few standouts (“Tightrope” comes to mind) that are equals to their influences.
It’d be entirely unfair to Fanfarlo to just judge them in regards to other bands’ music, though. They’ve earned the right to be considered seriously and deserve close inspection. While plying apart the songs on Rooms Filled With Light can be exhausting with the amount of thought that went into constructing it, it’s ultimately a rewarding task. The material’s all great, but sometimes it feels too light, too whimsical. When Fanfarlo really commit to something though, like the orchestral arrangements dominating lead-off track “Replicate, the effect is exhilarating.
“Deconstruction” continues that feel for a while, immediately after, with its jaunty rhythms, driving bass, and peppy melody before falling out into a gorgeous but brief piano segment. “Lenslife” follows that piano with xylophones, continuing the album’s heavy reliance on synthesizers, which actually end up enhancing the band’s sound instead of detrimental (as is often the case with synthesizers in the hands of bands like Fanfarlo). There’s been an up-tick in the Bruce Hornsby influence trend since Bon Iver’s self-titled album, and it continues here with the introduction to “Shiny Things” before Fanfarlo navigates that song into more rewarding territory, adding their own pop flourishes.
Throughout the next few songs, the band tinkers with horn arrangements, tempo alterations, short instrumental tracks, and various other tricks, leading into another one of Rooms Filled With Light‘s strongest tracks, “Feathers”. Even more than “Tightrope”, “Feathers” proves what Fanfarlo is capable of when they invest themselves into something. Each independent performance here is a standout, from the excellent lyrics and their delivery to the drummer’s syncopation. It all comes together into a unified whole that sends a slightly disjointed song to a level.
The last few songs are where Fanfarlo really lose their steam, where Rooms Filled With Light starts to drag. They still pull out a few stops here and there, specifically with uniformly great choruses. However, a chorus is never enough to save an entire song, and its energy wanes, then plummets, making the tracks feel longer than they really are. Once “Dig” comes on, patterns start to emerge—and while they’re admirable patterns, they can become glaring drawbacks in the long-player format. Not counting the gorgeous, 38-second “Everything Resolves”, the record does get momentarily saved by “A Flood”, which recalls, of all bands, The Antlers and Low. It’s a slow-burner with a heartfelt delivery that’s propelled by minimalist arrangements and small tinges of synth. It’s a beautiful moment, breaking away from the repetitiveness that’s momentarily established.
Unfortunately, despite the band’s most resilient efforts, Rooms Filled With Light just can’t sustain the momentum that “Replicate” began in earnest. It has its moments to be sure: At its absolute best, it’s an exhilarating listen, and at its worst, it does nothing but reveal a band even more promising than originally thought in an extremely strong transition. It’ll be interesting to see what the band does next, but at this point, it’s almost guaranteed that whatever it is, it’ll be worth a listen.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.