Rooms Filled with Light is the follow up to Fanfarlo’s 2009 debut full length Reservoir, which saw them garner critical acclaim. This time around, the London based quintet has taken a different approach to their songwriting, swapping soft, fey elements for a more defined orchestral and experimental sound. This could be partly due to having Ben Allen on production duties, having produced two definitive albums of the ‘00s, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, amongst others. On first listen to Fanfarlo’s sophomore effort, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression, but with repeat listens, more and more intricacies start to creep out of the woodwork.
Throughout Rooms Filled with Light, there’s an emphasis on repetition as lead Simon Balthazar often repeats lyrics for effect, slowly infiltrating your brain with the sharp charm of his vocals. Opener “Replicate” starts with sweeping violin accompanied by swirling synth patterns that sound like a Wurlitzer being played down at a haunted seaside fairground. Fanfarlo experiment with percussion as it sounds like a woodpecker’s incessant pecking echoing in the background, steering away from the typical 4/4 drum beat. “Deconstruction” sees Balthazar face one of the most common fears, facing problems head on. He urges “look away sometimes,” insistent that it “goes away sometimes,” asserting that burying your head in the sand can often make the problem go away, but in most cases it just makes it worse. It’s as if Balthazar is deconstructing the situation of his problems and can’t deal with them. He takes a very clinical view to this process as he wants to “dissect it” and “break it up in pieces and throw away what we don’t understand,” not factoring in the emotional side that comes with it.
“Tunguska” is most likely about the famous Tunguska explosion that occurred in Russia in 1908, the largest impact over land in the history of the Earth, and Balthazar personifies this as he states “We’re on your side, Tunguska.” Often unaware as humans that we aren’t the centre of the universe, thinking about an event such as this puts our lives into perspective by comparing our existence to a natural disaster beyond anyone’s control. “Lens Life,” however, focuses on the instrumental side of things, starting off with a quiet bassline that ambles along with a vibrant glockenspiel riff, shortly exploding into the sound of a full marching band storming through a town street in the chorus and then unexpectedly, introducing bouncing krautrock synth loops that build up in the background, showing the versatility of the record.
Fanfarlo have certainly evolved since their debut and showcase more understanding for textures and intricate details in their music. The lyrics often take a narrative form, telling a story but never revealing whether Balthazar is the man behind the story or it’s more general. Balthazar said that to him, the album is about what a weird and intense experience it is just to be alive and try to make sense of the modern world with all its bewildering pressures and possibilities, and Rooms Filled With Light certainly plays with that and there’s an uncertainty as to whether we should shy away from the complications or turn them into positives. It’s as if this album was originally a room faintly illuminated with a dim light but, slowly, it turned into a room filled with light.