Reviewed by John Proctor
The poet T.S. Eliot
said a funny thing about tradition when invoked
in criticizing individual work: “Seldom, perhaps,
does the word appear except in a phrase of censure.”
This is especially true in the dynamic of indie
rock – while a few influences might be cited,
every kid I know in Brooklyn who has a band wants
to make sure everyone knows how different they are
from everyone else. Which is doubly ironic in light
of how balkanized the indie world has become, a
veritable battle royal between the nu-wavers and
the no-wavers, the freak-folks and the anti-folks,
the post-rockers and the classicists, the noise-rockers
and the shoegazers, and every sub-subgenre that
can fit between the ropes.
Enter Fanfarlo, a London indie band whose new album
Reservoir might touch on at least half
of the styles of Indie Battle Royal 2009. First
off, they have a name that to my knowledge has no
real meaning, but has no competition on Google.
There’s the vaguely Jeff Buckley emotive voice
(with a few less octaves) that Andrew Bird, Patrick
Watson and countless NYU students in art-rock bands
have appropriated. “Ghosts” and “Luna”
juxtapose jangly Johnny Marr-inspired guitars and
a chugging new wave beat with a very new-century-indie
affinity for horns and vibes (see Sufjan Stevens
and Broken Social Scene). These and the best of
the rest of the album also have a nice dramatic
sense of build and resolution that Nick Cave and
the Birthday Party in the 80s, Stereolab in the
90s and Destroyer in this decade have perfected.
And if these decade reference points aren’t
enough, there is a vague underlying 70s Rundgrenesque
production similar in mood to Midlake’s 2007
masterpiece The Trials of Van Occupanther.
But what makes the album work is not the traceability
of its origins, but how playfully and seamlessly
it works its influences into the body of the album.
And it’s not a putdown to say it sounds familiar
in the current indie landscape. Eliot also said
– and I paraphrase – that any artistic
talent lies not expressing one’s unique personality
but in integrating it into the tradition it springs
from. That Fanlarlo has produced in Reservoir
an album that does this so seamlessly is no small
feat, especially within a tradition that so consistently
refuses to acknowledge itself.