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"What if we realised we were all descended from a tiny seed that hitched a ride here from space? Or if evolution took us in a drastic new direction, like making us all into conjoined twins, no longer born to be landlocked in a geography of loneliness. Would we still qualify?
Perhaps it's time to think about what our ideas of 'us' boil down to. To consider afresh where one thing ends and the next begins. Because the harder you try to zoom in on you, the more 'you' becomes a riotous congregation of cells, a whole galaxy of cooperating matter, together performing the mass rituals of walking and talking.
Each of us compelled to spend our blink-of-an-eye existence with these strangely incomplete mirror images, broadcast and projected inside one another's minds. You and me: a heartbreaking 24-hour live reality show. It's a pretty good show, mind you."
Fanfarlo's third album, "Let's Go Extinct," could be seen as a concept album about human evolution and possible futures, but it's also a big beautiful pop record, and somehow manages to juggle both simultaneously. Yes, it does grapple with the big questions, but always with a glint in its eye, a sense that nothing could ever be weirder than the truth, and with a stirring chorus just about to break.
"All the songs we'd written seemed to deal in direct or roundabout ways with the things that the theory of evolution tries to answer: where the hell are we, and where are we going next?," says singer and main songwriter Simon Balthazar. "The weirdness of being this thing we call a person and the double weirdness of other people. So we set about dealing with the subject matter with all the flippant playfulness and childish seriousness it deserves."
In its way, "Let's Go Extinct" is a return to the warmth and liveliness of the band's much-feted debut, "Reservoir." After their forays into the more austere landscapes of their second record ("Rooms Filled With Light"), "Let's Go Extinct" is the sound of the band cutting loose from all expectation, and just letting whatever's going to come, come.
It was recorded partly with David Wrench at the band's old haunt, the eccentric Bryn Derwen studio in North Wales, ("the surroundings there eerily remind me of the village where I grew up in Sweden. It's a place that makes you helplessly happy but at the same time instills a sort of spiritual sadness." -- Simon). The band then took away the 'tapes' and set up studio in an isolated Welsh house that had previously stood empty for 20 years. This process gave them the freedom and time to let the record take its own musical shape.
Channeling the 50s electronic experimentations of Raymond Scott, Shadow Morton rockabilly filtered through Suicide, West Coast sacred cows Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac, a little prog rock here, a spaghetti western flourish there, a blast of 'Young Americans' soul all the way over there, the band take freely from their favourite music and the pantheon of cult artists, and use them to create something utterly modern and entirely their own.
Balthazar, meanwhile, has accelerated from a talented contender into a commanding and intriguing presence, both as lyricist and singer. Even his more elliptical musings on the human condition -- such as 'Myth of Myself' -- rendered in his warm tones, enter your brain as completely acceptable things to say in song, no matter how wacko they may appear in black and white.
"In a way we went a bit metaphysical with this one," admits Balthazar. "We took inspiration from the theory of Panspermia and visions of post-apocalyptic London, as well as Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Watts and Miroslav Holub, neuroscience and love, because at the end of the day, you can listen to these songs as simple stories of love, hunger and loss."
Fanfarlo have never been ones to dwell on the stock-in-trade of the rhyming dictionary journeymen. Instead of romantic leads there have always been UFO obsessives, outsider philosophers and lone visionaries in their central casting. But the songs on this record are expressed in such an irresistible palette of colour and form that you could thrill to them without ever unpicking its various Gordian knots and discovering the hidden joys within.
In the wake of recording of "Let's Go Extinct," Fanfarlo has undergone another lineup change: they are joined this year by Valentina Magaletti on drums. The band are completed by Cathy Lucas (violin, keys), Leon Beckenham (trumpet, keys) and Justin Finch (bass).