For fans of the London-based quintet known as Fanfarlo their new album, Rooms Filled With Light, is both a breath of fresh air and a throwback to 80′s new-wave pop at the same time. You’d think sounding like records that are almost 30 years old would seem stale but the current landscape of indie rock has an immediate opening in all things new-wave. The band’s quirky and arty sound has found themselves in playlists alongside bands such as The Cure and Talking Heads. This album will only reinforce those comparisons.
The album opens with a rather intense string-induced “fright fest” called “Replicate” that’s part-Andrew Bird, part-David Byrne but serves as a bizarre and beautiful opener. Track numero dos, “Deconstruction”, is the album’s first single and is a focused and upbeat tune that raises you up but sort of falls apart with with the creepy piano outro. For my money, the light doesn’t fill the room until almost two minutes into the third track “Lenslife” which takes the orchestral pop back to more familiar territory, a la 2008′s Reservoir. A great tune that certainly flows with glimmering ripples and crashing waves. “Tightrope” is a foot-stomper for the internet age and just like the lyrics – it could all come crashing down at any moment. Pretty heavy stuff but what do you expect from a song that may or may not have a harp in it? Once the album gets going it’s actually quite fun. Fanfarlo succeeds in making themes of science and extinction seem fun and quirky. Swedish frontman Simon Balthazar manages to keep an element of hope and youthful energy in a genre that historically includes frontmen who look like Edward Scissorhands or Max Headroom.
Rooms Filled With Light is a little more “out there” than the band’s debut 2008 record Reservoir but the unconventional spirit combined with an electronic and orchestral “double-threat” create a very atmospheric record that would make even Brian Eno proud. They mix elements of folk, indie rock and post-punk using a variety of instruments including the trumpet, violin, mandolin and glockenspiel. A lot of potential combinations there and most of them come together nicely. It’s not the best album of the year but if you’re partial to bands like Belle & Sebastian or Arcade Fire you will fit right in. There’s a depth to the album that I overlooked the first few times but after a few more whirls (and a new set of headphones) I’ve finally seen the light.
Here are live sessions of two great tracks from Rooms Filled With Light.
In what appears to be another effort to dissatisfy fans of rock music, Thom Yorke is back to his old tricks of writing songs for people who must not like music but need something to listen to.
Normally I try to steer clear of reviews for disappointing albums as there are enough angry rants on the internet but this time I had to make an exception. It’s a love/hate relationship with one of our generation’s greatest bands that just warrants a conversation. My rationale for this write up is due in large part to the indie hipster press that will surely declare this “one of Radiohead’s best” and display the “if you don’t get it it’s because your brain is too small” arrogance they have become notorious for. Clearly Radiohead doesn’t care about “commercial success” but that’s easy to say when you’re already rich. The truth is that Radiohead doesn’t care if people like their music, so long as they still buy it. For all us fans of the many, many good songs Radiohead has released, this enigma of “commercial success” lies somewhere in between “songs that are enjoyable to listen to” and what Thom Yorke deems “pop malarkey” at any given time. It’s a wide range that will leave many fans scratching their heads.
The real shame is that 2007′s In Rainbows was released as an album you could listen to first and then pay however much you liked. A truly bold and daring effort. Yet their new album, King of Limbs was released at a fair digital download price of $9 – over a month before the release of the physical cd and vinyl packages. Why the change? Probably due to reports that the In Rainbows Experiment was a colossal failure as most fans paid nothing for the initial download, prompting the band to close down this trial format after a few months.
Outside of Radiohead’s tail-tucked resort back to a more traditional release, the music finds the group moving away from the status-quo and “listenability” of their last album and reverting to the blips and repetitive moans a la Yorke’s solo album “The Eraser”. Here Yorke’s effortless and unique vocals range from his usual high register ween to moments of brooding and despair. He’s certainly a talented man, there’s no denying that, but just when you feel like giving him an A for effort, you get to a song (“Feral”) that has what sounds like a toad croaking for two straight minutes. “Little By Little” seems lively at first with the simple chords strumming along and catchy beat but just when it seems like things are headed on the up – nothing ever happens. It’s a broken record of same ole, same ole that leaves you wondering in what context would this song ever get people to tap their feet or nod their heads? “Lotus Flower”, the single released as a video is the closest thing to an actual song on the album. I won’t go as far to say it’s the inviting worm dangling on the edge of this album’s dull rusty hook but it does stand out on an album full of slow empty songs with no accessible direction or voice.
Simply put – This album is boring. Some will call it beautiful and daring but for those not trying to impress the girl in the coffee shop, it’s just not fun to listen to. King of Limbs is the typical serving of inaccessible Radiohead that has been dividing fans since the release of 2000′s Kid A. The fact that this isn’t even new territory is what makes it all the more lame.
Arcade Fire’s new album, The Suburbs, sounds like a band who have been taken very seriously trying to make a not-so-serious sounding album while still being serious. For such a complicated endeavor, it works perfectly. In such a simple and elegant manner, “The Suburbs” is more of a conversation than the “preaching” of earlier works. The band is crafting the same fears and doubts about the world only this time picking brighter colors to wrap it in.
The album is clearly more upbeat and optimistic than their 2007′s, Neon Bible. The latter being a not-so-thinly-veiled attack on post-9/11 America and organized religion. The Suburbs is not a walk in the park mind you as there’s some heavy stuff here but clearly there is a maturation in both the style and attitudes of these jaded rockers. For an album about typical suburban life it ironically becomes something of a rarity mixing equal parts classic beauty and head-bobbing rock n roll. The flawless timing and swooping melodies take you back to simpler days of lying in the grass staring at the sky while the wind blows over you. How can something so easy and careless seem so unattainable once you’re an adult? It’s questions like these that show up all over the record. Arcade Fire could have come out swinging at all the absurdity in suburban life (a la “American Beauty”) but instead they take a breath and approach these concerns in a slightly more subtle way. Well, as subtle” as Arcade Fire can get anyway.
It’s hard for anyone who works in an office all day to not find themselves in the melancholy ballad “Modern Man”. It’s a truly beautiful song and in the same manner of John Lennon’s “Nowhere Man” hopefully will rattle a few corporate drones (like myself) loose from their dull daily routines.
“Rococo” is a pretty, albeit haunting, song about the silliness of “modern kids” who follow progressive trends and ideas but don’t really understand them. “They seem wild but they are so tame, They’re moving towards you with their colors all the same.” A bold indictment of what is surely a large chunk of ticket-buying Arcade Fire fans.
“City With No Children” might be one of the most personal songs on the album and seems to touch on a possible nerve about lead singer Win Butler’s credibility as he grows in both fame and fortune. The subject of bringing children into a dangerous, possibly doomed, world shares a theme with self-titled opener “The Suburbs”.
“Sprawl I and II” is the perfect close for the record. A true yin and yang musically but closely aligned accounts of the expanding urban sprawls replacing open fields and trees with shopping malls and fast-food chains. What some see as growth and progress have become “dead shopping malls” void of any real feeling or experience. The two-part song closes with those lost in the material wilderness driving into the night in hopes of finding some balance. In a weird way the final song makes me think of Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly”. Another “searching for answers” synth-heavy tune from a rock band known for their ominous virtues.
I realize this might be the most hyped up album of the year and Arcade Fire has a reputation for doing no wrong in the eyes of indie press but this one truly is a winner. It’s by far their most complete album to date and no song stands out as a dud. Win Butler and friends might be pessimistic about the world we live in but when it fuels material like this, things seem a little better.
You can listen to two standout tracks below or listen to the album which is streaming thru NPR here.
Guest Writer: Olivia Harrington
When Tokyo Police Club burst out onto the scene in 2005 their songs oozed adolescent angst and sex in the way only teenage boys could. On their first EP A Lesson In Crime tracks had little build-up coupled with self-conscious insecurity, marked by fast paced, jarring motions and a hint of false bravado. It was, nevertheless, a perfectly climaxing EP that left listeners begging for more.
Five years later, Tokyo Police Club’s newest foray, the 11-track sophomore LP Champ, shows signs of a maturity that begins to recover from the awkward phase of their first LP, Elephant Shell. While their earlier sounds marketed off the short attention span of modern culture, Champ has an assuredness that allows lead singer Dave Monks to take his time, lingering in the absolute absurdity and beauty of youth. One of the best songs on the album, ‘Favourite Food’ begins like a ballad of youth lost, wandering amongst a melodious disarray of electronic sounds. The vocals are soft, but halfway through TPC can’t resist bringing in the heavier instrumentals and upbeat tempo that made them famous. Tracks like ‘Bambi’ reveal a dichotomy TPC often explore. The lyrics juxtapose the childlike wonder of kites and castles against a slurred, cynical apology for coming home drunk the night before. Champ reads like a modern day bedtime story where each tale awakens you to some forgotten memory, holding you in the farthest thing from sleep. TPC transports listeners back to the nights they were tucked into bed or, more likely, tangled amongst another’s limbs in the backseat of the car.
If there is one complaint to be made on the album is that their longing for something past has stifled their ability to create something genuinely new. Monks’ romanticism of the past creates fuzzy tableaus, but that same blurriness carries on throughout their album. As Champ continues, songs begin to risk the predictability of heavy guitar rifts, highlighted vocals and snapshots of childhood attics covered in dust. Tokyo Police Club must be careful to save themselves from the fate of senile grandparents, constantly reminiscing about ‘back in the day’ to the point where you no longer wish to visit. In order to overcome the seeming curse of the mid-2000s indie band (The afflicted: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Cold War Kids and Bloc Party amongst others), TPC must continue to construct upon where Champ succeeds. They must emphasize their lyrical prowess, but explore different build and rifts, catapulting them from simply a catchy commercial band, to an indispensable voice of a generation. For these 20-somethings, they must consider how long and in what way they can continue manufacturing memories and reminiscing on teenage Americana. What Tokyo Police Club has is their age and the freedom it creates for them to form an identity and take unexpected leaps. Maybe it is time for some real rebellion, the kind to which their songs often allude. Perhaps they just may need to ask themselves, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”