British band Fanfarlo  returns to Louisville's Zanzabar  on Thursday, March 22, touring behind their recent release, Rooms Filled with Light, which follows up their debut effort from 2009, Reservoir. Led by Simon Balthazar, the young quintet made a positive impact on critics and fans alike with an accomplished first album, and their second outing is no sophomore slump. Showing the same creativity and variety that marked Reservoir, Rooms continues that trajectory of complex orchestration, strong vocals, and a knack for strong hooks.
Fanfarlo could easily float off into the ether of so-called "art rock" bands, but even though they make copious use of strings, horns, and other less likely instruments in their band, it never is at the expense of making very listenable, catchy pop music. A perfect example is the song, "Replicate," with Cathy Lucas' staccato violin backing Balthazar's lead vocals to build a musical suspense, spilling into a sweeping chorus and a clarinet line. It's unusual, but it works, which is representative of the rest of the album. It continually yields surprises, whether it's the swell of Leon Beckenham's trumpet on "Deconstruction" or the smoky swing of "Tunguska,"a song about a meteorite that flattened about 800 square miles of Siberia in 1908. With song titles that sound like they could come from the content page of a book on natural history, one of my favorites is "Feathers," a marimba-inflected island fantasy, or perhaps, dystopia, that features sirens (the mythical kind, I assume), tambourines, and backing vocals that remind me of some exotic tropical bird. I have no idea what this song is really about, but much like a Wallace Stevens poem, I don't care. It evokes.
Amongst the talented multi-instrumentalists of Fanfarlo are Justin Finch on bass and percussionist Amos Memnon, with the aforementioned Balthazar, Lucas, and Beckenham contributing vocals and everything from glockenspiel to keys and mandolin. For those with rather eclectic musical tastes, I recommend this show. You can grab some better-than-average food at Zanzabar  if you get there for dinner. Doors are at 8:00 p.m. and tickets can be purchased in advance via Ticketfly  or at the door for $15.
Below is the video for "Replicate":