|Photo by: Amazon|
Key Tracks: "Tightrope," "Replicate"
The folk-pop scene is becoming a crowded room indeed. What was a budding genre years ago with a simple few forerunners (Noah and the Whale arguably at its forefront) has broken wide open in the last three years, with the British folk revival in full swing and acts such as Mumford & Sons and The Head and the Heart winning warm regards.
Is there even any room these days for Fanfarlo?
The Londoners broke onto the scene just a short time before this boom--or, perhaps, right as it was beginning. Regarded as potential successors to the catchy British folk throne Noah and the Whale had constructed, with a dash of the baroque sensibility elevated by The Arcade Fire and others, Fanfarlo's debut record, Reservoir, was generally beloved.
But my, how quickly the face of music changes. One enormous folk explosion later, and you rarely heard the five-piece's name in casual conversation, if you ever heard it at all. In short, Fanfarlo has gone from buzz-band status to "Oh, right, I remember those guys" in a matter of three years.
But to say Rooms Filled With Light is a stab at regaining the band's former status wouldn't be too accurate. While one shouldn't necessarily expect a sense of urgency from a band trying to reassert itself in the genre, Fanfarlo seems fully satisfied with jumping from the genre completely.
Is this a problem? Not necessarily, but it does rob the album from any feeling of relevancy. If people are looking for a sort-of baroque-lite with slight folk elements that might do well for Win Butler and friends on an upcoming tour, call it a work of art. But that's such a narrow spectrum, one for which few are searching in reality.
Rooms Filled With Light is pretty, let's say that. Plenty of lush instrumentation complements Simon Balthazar's quaint, airy vocals, and it's this instrumentation that sets the band apart from similarly-minded folk acts. That's not to say that this choice overall frees the band from any criticism--it merely allows Fanfarlo to have their own niche.
But sometimes, Balthazar and friends are too subtle. Though the folk scene is obviously known for being subdued, quiet and/or unplugged, there's also a dramatic side in bands such as Mumford, Fleet Foxes and the Avett Brothers that gives their songs added dimension. Folk music can elicit some of the rawest and most potent of emotions.
Rooms Filled With Light, on the other hand, holds little substance. "Tightrope" is pure, jaunty fun and "Tanguska" provides some of the most enjoyable instrumentation on the record, particularly its saxophone lines.
Opening track "Replicate" provides hope. It's another song that sidesteps the band's former sensibilities, but it shows what Fanfarlo could be if they decide to depart from the genre completely. It also provides the most conflict of any song on the album, which should count for something.
But on many other songs, the band delves a bit too far away from their folk past for comfort. Bands obviously should strive to be different and do their own thing, but Rooms Filled With Light is more of a step backward than one forward.
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