British Band Fanfarlo in Boise at the Factory 

With a stern yank, two pairs of milky white hands pull taut the straps of a canvas straightjacket. The man wrapped inside winces just slightly as he's hoisted by his ankles into the air, a crescendo of drums and violin building behind him. Squirming to the authoritative wail of a trumpet, the escape artist fades to the background as Fanfarlo's suspenders-clad lead singer Simon Balthazar breaks through the thick cloud of sound with his haunting voice. So begins Fanfarlo's music video for "The Walls Are Coming Down," a single off of the London-based five-piece's debut album Reservoir.

"I'm quite into Harry Houdini and that whole era, that whole Victorian era and spiritualism," explained Balthazar, at home in London for a brief stint before the band embarks on a six-week U.S. tour.

Formed by Balthazar in 2006 before he moved from his native Sweden to London, Fanfarlo now consists of five multi-instrumentalists--Balthazar (vocals, guitar, mandolin, clarinet, keys), Justin Finch (bass, vocals), Amos Memon (drums, percussion, vocals), Leon Beckenham (trumpet, keys, melodica) and Cathy Lucas (violin, glockenspiel, vocals, mandolin, saw). Though the lush lit-pop band has been performing together live for the past couple of years and has put out a few singles, they only recently released their first full-length album.

"Recording and playing live are just two different ways of approaching music, and we love both," said Balthazar. "But playing live, it's about so many other things than music--it's about meeting people, it's about sort of bringing it out there, it's about traveling and seeing places," said Balthazar. "It's loud and dynamic in a way that recording music kind of struggles to be."

To harness that live energy in the recording studio, Fanfarlo enlisted the expertise of American producer Peter Katis (The National, Get Up Kids, Interpol). Holed up at Tarquin Studios in Connecticut, the group spent weeks recording their 11 opulent, multi-layered songs. While songs like "I'm a Pilot" echo with the dark, orchestral richness of Arcade Fire or Beirut and tunes like "Harold T. Wilkins" swirl with a candy-coated Clap Your Hands Say Yeah quality, the album isn't handicapped by these similarities. Rather, it emerges as a unique entity, Balthazar's compelling voice stringing each single-worthy song into a cohesive whole.

While Balthazar's lyrical delivery can be murky at times, the album resonates with a clear historical and literary influence. "The Walls Are Coming Down," for example, explores the metaphorical concept behind escapism--the complete shirking of reality--through an obscure 20th century historical figure.

"'Walls' was kind of inspired by this guy I read about called Pellegrino Ernetti, this Benedictine monk who was also a scientist ... One day he just decided he had invented a time machine and coined that," said Balthazar. "So the song is kind of about this time machine scam or delusion, and it's about reality falling apart."

With this degree of bookishness, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Fanfarlo pulled their name from a little-known short story, La Fanfarlo, by French poet Charles Baudelaire. And while each of the band members is an avid reader, and Reservoir hums with a certain romantic, coal-smudged, steam-punk quality, the music doesn't disintegrate under that conceptual weight. It strikes a delicate balance between new and old, direct and obtuse.

"For me, sometimes there's an actual story behind what I write, and sometimes it's more literally translated into lyrics, and sometimes it's more about imagery," said Balthazar. "Often, whatever I try and make up is just kind of an afterthought anyway because ... it's a flow of consciousness."

This combination of thoughtful lyrics, catchy arrangements, versatile musicianship and high-energy live performances has won Fanfarlo hordes of new fans. Not long after the band wrapped up a recent six-stop U.S. tour in September, they were quickly invited back to play New York's CMJ music festival and then announced another 28-date tour to commence shortly thereafter. But with five members, each playing an array of instruments, touring can present a bit of a challenge.

"Because we layer things up a lot and use a lot of instruments, it's a lot of hard work. We probably play, on average, two to three, maybe three, instruments each during our set. We often swap instruments in songs and we have to cart around all these instruments and sound check all these instruments," said Balthazar. "It's a bit of a nightmare, but it's really worth it."

While Fanfarlo sold out a number of dates on their previous U.S. tour, Boise audiences are in for a special treat: their upcoming show at the Knitting Factory on Monday, Nov. 16, is free. Sponsored by 94.9 The River, the only way to win tickets to the show is by listening to The River or visiting riverinteractive.com. With all the much-deserved buzz surrounding Fanfarlo, and Reservoir already climbing to the No. 15 spot on NPR's best music of 2009 (so far) list, the band isn't likely to get much rest from the rigors of touring and carting around instruments for a good long while.

"We're going to have to tour a lot before we can settle down and record a new album. But I think maybe what we'll do next is record an EP because we really want to get some new songs out there," said Balthazar. "I think this happens to every band. You record your first album, and there are sort of old songs or songs that you've been playing for a while. And then, artistically, you want to move on, but to everyone else, they've only just heard these; they're new songs for them ... But it's great to be able to present them to people who've never heard them before."

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