“I guess these are everyday issues,” Simon Balthazer, vocalist for Fanfarlo, told me over the phone in a much more casual tone than I originally expected. The London-based indie-pop band’s third full-length release Let’s Go Extinct is chock full of encompassing, existential questions: what are we, the human race, doing here; what happens next; what is the meaning of it all, etc. I was bracing myself for a metaphysical conversation delving into the depths of all those unfathomable questions that haunt us in our darkest moments. I was gonna have to brush up on my Nietzsche and Kierkegaard for this one. This is one serious band with some serious thoughts on their minds. Never mind the fact that the conversation would be taking place at 10 in the morning and that the touring frontman would probably be tired and jet-lagged and possibly annoyed by an overly-enthusiastic blogger’s quest for meaning in rock and roll.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to think this is some brave, bold statement, that we’re purposefully tackling hard and heavy issues,” he went on, shattering my solemn assumptions. “These are just the facts of life, things that are fun to think about. It’s serious but also interesting…playful. A sort of serious play.” Fun? But these are questions that philosophers spend their entire lives pondering, questions that make the more fragile of mind go mad or convert to creepy, alien-worshiping cults, questions I was apparently expecting an intellectually engaging pop band to answer. When many rock bands reference fun, they’re singing about getting laid or doing drugs or partying until their livers explode, but Simon simply countered, “That’s all well and good, but, artistically, it’s just not very interesting.”
That statement pretty much sums up the sound and style of Fanfarlo, and how I so clearly missed the point of Let’s Go Extinct.
It is indeed a fun album, full of gripping hooks, soaring melodies and mellifluous instrumental arrangements. The lyrics may be packed with big ideas, but the music, with its boisterous synthesizers and danceable beats, emphasizes the sheer joy of exploring such enigmatic questions. It’s smart pop, but not too smart for its own good, never coming across as pretentious or inaccessibly dense. This is a fact the band astutely understands and is exactly why the balance works. “There’s never been anything particularly clever about how we make records,” Simon is quick to point out. “We’ve always just done what we feel, what’s fun. We make pop records because we love pop music. The only problem we may have is when we put too many ideas in there.”
There are certainly a lot of ideas circulating throughout their new album, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment factor. This really is pop music made by pop music fans, and the list of influences Simon cited while making the record — disco, new wave, Todd Rundgren, Spaghetti Western soundtracks, and, strangely enough, King Crimson’s Red — display an eclectic range of tastes that perfectly explains its unique, captivating sound.
Simon confirmed my interpretation that the album itself is decidedly neutral, that the lyrics questioning the fate of mankind are more concerned with searching for answers rather than finding them. But I had to ask what his personal thoughts on our existence are. “Oh I’m definitely an optimist,” he claimed confidently. “It’s very hard to come up with any actual answers, probably impossible. The closest you can get to the truth is to try different perspectives on, see the world in different ways. People, humanity, will die out, that’s inevitable. But is that the end of the world? Of course not. Life will go on without us, and there’s a comfort in that fact.”
Fanfarlo will be moving on soon as well. They will be playing the Great American Music Hall tonight and continue the North American leg of their tour through the end of April. As Simon put it, “Being in a band is a sort of bipolar existence. When you’re writing an album, you’re isolated from the outside world in many ways. You’re looking inward for the creative inspiration. Now comes the manic phase–getting out in the world, connecting with people, reaching out to audiences every night.”
Despite all their questions about existence, it seems like the band has carved out a pretty good one for themselves. And they want you to join the fun.
Fanfarlo, Lilies On Mars
Great American Music Hall
March 26, 2014
8pm, $15, all ages