"Fire Escape" / Fanfarlo
Another new band you kids might enjoy.
Based in London (although their front man Simon Balthazar is from Sweden, land o' hipsters), Fanfarlo takes its name from a Baudelaire novel, which sounds a weeny bit pretentious, I must say. I suppose it's a fair cop -- there's more than a whiff of Belle & Sebastian-style fey poetry about these folks. Stylistically, though, their music has a deliciously wide range, venturing out of the indie-folk spectrum into punk, electronica, and world-beat territory. Hey, any band that incorporates clarinets, musical saws, and glockenspiels gets my vote.
I've got this particular track -- from their 2009 debut album Reservoir -- on my workout playlist. I have to say, I get a surge of energy the minute I hear those rippling (and yes, borderline cheesy) keyboard arpeggios. That uptempo brightness is just the thing to counterbalance Balthazar's reverbed vocals -- numb, slightly haunted vocals that somehow perfectly fit this song's setting.
The singer teeters tentatively on a fire escape (think cold metal, think exposed to the elements, think you could fall and break your neck) contemplating his next move. The picture's kinda bleak, with broken glass and sirens and a cruel winter. It's a moment of decision -- "When you’re still midway / It’s not too late to just turn back" -- rather, of indecision. Our hapless hero is a misfit (what a surprise! an indie song about a misunderstood outsider!) and he's none too sure of himself -- "I think I slipped, I think I fell."
But that youthful spirit of hope keeps bubbling up, with those rippling keyboards and the sweet trumpet solo in the instrumental break. "The future is not down there," he declares, willing himself to move ahead. And in that cryptic last verse -- "We were raised by strangers / The life that you had in mind / Was just a moth and a light" -- I read an expression of fearless plunging into the great unknown, the great Why Not?
And just when you think it's all over -- there's whistling. Far as I'm concerned, there's not enough whistling in modern music (must be the closet country fan in me coming out again). Whistling in the dark? Maybe. But that tune is just too damn cheerful to be a downer. When all else fails, whistle a happy tune, right? It really does work.