Bring the trauma

Fanfarlo adjust to the road
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  December 15, 2009

VAN RATS Fanfarlo have been touring the old-fashioned way, but they snagged their label by going the Radiohead route.

Even with the new order completely renovating the rock biz, some things have to be done the old-fashioned way. And after having their asses duly kicked by the old-fashioned way this past month, the five-piece London orchestral-pop combo known as Fanfarlo are eager to be done with this, their first US tour (which comes to T.T. the Bear's this Thursday). It's been a doozy.

In Portland (Oregon), they had their van broken into, losing a laptop and a passport in the process. Near Reno, the highway patrol had to save them from sliding down a snowy mountainside. In stormy Texas, they spent hours on the highway dodging jackknifing trucks. They've suffered equipment failures and had to cancel shows (sorry, Montreal and Toronto); they even managed to leave their drummer Amos at a service station. (What they thought was him in the back seat was actually a pile of blankets.) But more than gasoline or burritos, what fuels any young touring band with stars in their eyes is a sick desire for more: more dues paying, more adversity, more punishment.

"We battle on!" affirms bassist (and long-time Fanfarlan) Justin Finch. "We've traveled 10,000 miles so far, and we're not done yet. This is what it's all about, though, right?'

Of course, it hasn't been all hardship and peril this time out. The band were thrilled to see the Fleet Foxes in attendance at their Seattle show. Venerable elder indie-rock tunesmith Thax Douglas immortalized them in verse. And they experienced their first-ever snowball fight. Plus, they've been delighting the moth-nibbled sweaters off fans they didn't know they had all over the States.

Chalk that up to the new way of doing things. After spending a chunk of 2008 at Tarquin Studios in Connecticut with producer Peter Katis (best known for '00s-defining recordings from the likes of Interpol and the National) and issuing a handful of singles on a handful of small labels, the band went Radiohead and posted their debut album, Reservoir, for a suggested donation. Although this new-fangled formula itself is hardly a foolproof way to launch one's band (endless drive space and bandwidth are, after all, no match for finite interest), it helps when said band make music that distills and refines the best elements of 10 overstuffed years of orchestral pop. And that seems to have done the trick, landing them on Atlantic imprint Canvasback.

Less chest-rending than the Arcade Fire, less precious than Decemberists, less experimental than Efterklang, and less . . . Sufjan than Sufjan, Fanfarlo offer a hard-to-resist halfway point between every extreme of the burgeoning orchestral-pop sound, never resorting to histrionics or resting on the assumption that more is more. Standout single "Drowning Men" trails singer Simon Aurell's tremulous croon through a chugging guitar-pop expanse before melting into Cathy Lucas's sweet violin and then drifting off atop a singing saw and a twinkling glockenspiel. "I'm a Pilot" is a stomping emo-chantey that wouldn't sound out of place in a pub or on a Beirut album. It's all very lovely, lush and light.

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