122. Song No. 1,725: “Cell Song,” Fanfarlo
Let’s Go Extinct, 2014
Sometimes, it takes a few tries for a band to stick. For some, like Jukebox the Ghost, it’s finally revisiting an album when I’m in the right place to appreciate all the treats it offers; for others, like Fanfarlo, it’s finally meeting the right song at the right time.
In the final years of The Summer Burn (which I know I’ve mentioned before but is better explained here), some across-the-pond stranger I’d been paired with included Fanfarlo’s “Sand and Ice” in one of their 2010 mixes. I liked it enough to download the album it came from (Reservoir), but nothing really grabbed me and it got shelved away in iTunes, mostly unplayed and gathering digital dust.
Honestly, I couldn’t remember how or why I found my way back to Fanfarlo. But that’s why I love Last.fm: I can click around my own personal rabbit hole and find out I gave Fanfarlo more than a few halfhearted chances. See?
(Having these kinds of stats handy is only partly why I still use and love Last.fm.) A little more clicking translates this as listening to Reservoir three times in 2011 then for another few rounds in 2016, and late-2018’s sudden spike of 10 album plays finally exploding into 1,220 scrobbles (or song plays) across three albums I suddenly couldn’t get enough of in 2019.
I cannot recall what finally hooked me on Fanfarlo but I do remember falling hard for the song “Ghosts”and it all being downhill from there. There are so many bands I really only love one album from and secretly wish all the others sounded more like it; Fanfarlo, however, is three LPs stuffed full of songs I can happily play over and over again, either as a whole album or one track for three days, leap-frogging my way through the tracks, getting stuck on one song then another, but never really getting sick of any of them and still wanting to play every one over and over until… well, the world gets tired of looking at itself.
By the time Let’s Go Extinct came out, Fanfarlo had already put out an EP and two albums showcasing their range, so why not go the concept route. It’s a slow build of an album thematically winding itself around the idea of evolution in an expanding gimmick that doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all, offering up all these songs that are so good on their own but somehow better when they all get to work together to build toward something bigger. (If I were feeling more optimistic about humanity right now, I’d venture a metaphor about that being a mighty good reminder of a more important societal message, but I’m not, so. Grasp for your own microcosms of motivation standing in for broader truths, and maybe start here.)
Anyway. “Cell Song.” Let’s Go Extinct is an album structured like a features story: The first song establishes the mood; this, the second one, grounds and directs the content to come in its march toward the only logical but novelly executed conclusion; the rest support, color and personalize the the central thesis. While Reservoir had a distinctly indie-Americana (despite its European members)/alt-folk feel to it — think like the Decemberists’ spiritual successor run through an Arcade Fire processor — the band’s style morphs throughout its oeuvre but sticks to variations on a theme so well that they do what I wish every band could: offer something new with every album without deviating too much from the sound I fell in love with.
“Cell Song” is a freaking good song but it’s not just a good song. It bursts from its roots to reach out in all directions, a driving beat as its beating heart, building something out of nothing from its trickling, ethereal intro to its lush and building chorus to the inevitable clean break of the falling apart all things are destined for after barreling through their crescendoing peaks. That lifespan contained to a song is something I’ve noticed as a musical theme since a college friend once lovingly detailed the creation elements at play in Death Cab’s “Transatlanticism” (the song specifically, not the album itself), and seeing it pop up in new places is always like a visit from an old friend.
I think that’s actually a wildly overlooked explanation for why I love this song and Fanfarlo so much: Anything that can instill in Adult Me the awe and wonder of falling in love with a band almost perfectly made to my exact musical penchants feels so much like what College Me loved about losing myself in music. And there’s nothing quite as pleasantly surprising as finding out that a kernel of that magic can still plant itself in the music I’ve become smitten with as a reluctant adult.