Review by K. Ross Hoffman
For anyone who's paid the least attention to the tasteful, tuneful, nebulously rootsy strain of indie rock that was in ascendance throughout the mid- to late 2000s, Fanfarlo's debut album will sound instantly and inescapably familiar. The London-based quintet favor a genial affect, moderate tempos, and a blend of orchestral (violin, trumpet) and folksy (mandolin, accordion, harmonica, saw) instrumentation akin to acts such as the National and Grizzly Bear, while vocalist Simon Balthazar's broad, heartfelt crooning invites immediate comparisons to Beirut's Zach Condon. Most of all, it must be said, the band display an undeniable similarity to the Arcade Fire, with whom they share all of the above-mentioned qualities as well as a distinctly earnest, quietly dramatic, emotional fervor. If anything, the imitation is a slightly pale one -- even at its most impassioned, their brand of chamber pop bombast is never as potent and unrestrained as that Montreal outfit -- but if they're unlikely to inspire unbridled passion in most listeners, the familiarity of their sound should breed plenty of contentment. Fanfarlo are at their best when their lush but occasionally dreary instrumental efforts are focused around a strong, simple melody, as is frequently the case here -- on pop-leaning cuts like "Fire Escape," "Finish Line," and "Harold T. Wilkins," and particularly on the sweet, piano-led ballad "If It Is Growing." That said, the most striking thing here may be the opener, "I'm a Pilot," which impresses as much with its hypnotically slow, chugging rhythm (provided by foot stomps and sleigh bells) as with Balthazar's typically wailed (and particularly Win Butler-ish) vocal turn.