Before starting work on their debut album, Fanfarlo released several low-key singles, treading the familiar path of many modern indie bands and building a small but devoted fanbase before they even had an album. Their early releases had many bloggers in a tizzy – as well they might, what with the combination of violin, guitar, glockenspiel and wistfulness. Singles like ‘Fire Escape’ and ‘Talking Backwards’ took that familiar indie-kid aesthetic and went at it with some fine song-writing. Expectations for Reservoir were high.
It starts strongly, with ‘I’m a Pilot’, a slow-mover that manages to be gorgeous without trying once to be all epic, which is rather refreshing. It’s also got one of the best choruses of the album, so joyous that by the time the song ends, you feel a little tired out. And that’s part of the problem here. The first four songs play to the band’s strengths – moving music laden with group vocals and emotive strings and horns – and while there’s not a bad track among them, they all feel like album closers. The effect is a little like backwards catharsis – by the time you reach ‘Fire Escape’, the record’s highpoint, you’ve been all wound up.
Judging their songs on their individual merits might be fairer. There are some truly gorgeous moments on this album. ‘Comets’ shows Fanfarlo doing what they do best, small-scale emotional drama that flickers and smoulders over five minutes, and culminates in a finale so beautiful that you want to stop listening to the album and go and do something with your day. It’s a shame it wasn’t placed at the album’s end, as it would have been far more satisfying than the actual closer, ‘Good Morning Midnight’, a minute-and-a-half acoustic meander that goes nowhere.
Sadly, the track order isn’t the only flaw here. The album suffers from having all the lesser songs placed in the middle section, a move which makes their inferiority to jams like ‘Harold T. Wilkins’ all the more obvious. After its forty minutes are up, it’s clear that Reservoir is a missed opportunity, with the band’s fine songwriting frustrated by poor choices. If it weren’t for its handful of successes, there’d be little here worth mentioning. As it is, there’s good reason to hope that Fanfarlo’s next effort will be the masterpiece they clearly have in them.