“Harold T. Wilkins” – Fanfarlo

Sparkly and quirky-poppy in a way that harkens back to early Talking Heads, “Harold T. Wilkins” shows off this London-based sextet’s capacity to turn its interest in historical obscurities into offbeat but engaging pop. (The band named itself after the poet Baudelaire’s one novella, so they’re serious about this stuff.) Wilkins was a British journalist who wrote on a number of subjects, including the paranormal; one specialty of his was researching ancient flying-saucer sightings. You won’t catch any of that from the song, however, in part because David Byrne-ish singer Simon Aurell sings in that way that lets you hear individual words more than complete sentences. You might wonder why a band would use specific, obscure references only to present in such a way as to keep them obscure, but it’s no different, really, from any song in which you can’t fully understand the lyrics. And I for one would rather encounter unintelligible lyrics about an obscure British writer (he also, it seems, reported on early TV experiments) than about another relationship gone bad.

The song’s full name is actually “Harold T. Wilkins, Or How To Wait For A Very Long Time,” and I’m feeling a strong sense of expectation throughout the song, produced first and foremost by that recurring mandolin motif in the verse–a short, cycling figure that doesn’t resolve as much as set us up for endless repetition. The chorus loses the mandolin and picks up an authoritative beat and some appealing melodic twists, and yet in the end fosters a renewed sense of anticipation via its unusual structure: it features six lyrical lines, following a rough AABBCC rhyme scheme, while the music offers an ABCDCD pattern. Which is to say it would have sounded finished after four lines; the extra two leave us less resolved as we glide back into waiting mode.

You’ll find this one on Reservoir, the band’s first full-length CD, which was self-released last month. MP3 via SXSW, where the band is playing this week, along with 700,000 others.




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