Simon Balthazar is what makes Fanfarlo most distinctive.
Jon Lusk 2009
This London-based five-piece are fronted by Swedish singer Simon Balthazar, whose presence dominates this rather samey and overwrought debut. With a mannered, slurred singing voice pitched somewhere between David Byrne and Brendan Flowers of The Killers, he is both what makes Fanfarlo most distinctive and also the thing that is most likely to wind you up.
Because of the way he sings, the lyrics seem incidental, if not entirely instrumental. For that reason, it's probably best not to trouble yourself with the possible subtexts of the likes of The Walls Are Coming Down: ''For atoms have gone as far as atoms will go/ Your books write themselves, they line up in row after row.''
Me neither. Anyway, this collection of songs seems to tell us little about the world apart from what the band like, or think is currently trendy – or was when the tunes were written. That means the kind of semi-acoustic indie folk popularised by the likes of Fleet Foxes (but without anything more than a hint of their vocal harmonies, or compelling musical narratives). That said, Fanfarlo more often sound more like Noah and the Whale with a musical saw and half an orchestra in tow.
There's also something of the empty crescendos of Arcade Fire, with the same kitchen-sink tendency to all play their instruments all the time – chiefly trumpet, violin, bass, guitar, drums and vocals. So it's a relief when they don't, as on the quiet, closing instrumental Good Morning Midnight, which could have been much longer and provides the relief that at least Simon says…nothing.
You may end up wondering why it was they offered the album up as a $1 download before 4 July, or what kind of 'musical differences' prompted guitarist Mark West to leave the band before they even got an album out. But the fact that they subsequently went on tour with Snow Patrol does offer a clue.