Release Date: Mar 19, 2013
Record label: Asthmatic Kitty
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop
A collective from the Los Angeles-area led by producers Samuel Bing and Julian Wass, Fol Chen have spent a few years honing an electronic tickle trunk sound marked by field recording manipulation, pop beats and vocals both sonically and lyrically warped. The sound is something they call "opera house," a phrase fittingly coined by English impresario Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols, Bow Wow Wow), but re-envisioned as beat-driven electronica with grand, operatic gestures and lyrically dense storytelling. It all sounds a bit grand and, indeed, their style can be a touch disorienting to the uninitiated, but Fol Chen achieve with The False Alarms something that eluded them on their first two albums.
Fol ChenThe False Alarms[Asthmatic Kitty; 2013]By Leslie Fernandez; March 26, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetFol Chen are often slapped with the ever-present post-millenial moniker "synthpop. " While that is a perfectly fine shorthand, a close read renders it reductive. Listening through The False Alarms” you understand why "synthpop" would be the first description of them, but you also hear the subtle undertones--synth lines that unsettle rather than work with the melody, very obvious house influences, and industrial drum beats that litter the album from start to end.
Fol Chen could be a wildly popular and great pop band if it wanted to, but it isn’t playing that game. In the past, “it isn’t playing that game” might not have been preceded by a “thankfully”, but things are a little different on third release The False Alarms. Gone are the difficult to grasp concepts (I didn’t even remember Fol Chen’s debut, Part 1: John Shade Your Fortune’s Made and follow-up, Part II: The New December were concept albums until I re-read the press release), meandering tunes, and alternating vocalists.
During the early part of their career, Fol Chen cloaked the identity of their bandmembers in mystery. Not so on their third album, The False Alarms; producers Samuel Bing and Julian Wass, and new singer Sinosa Loa, revealed themselves as some of the names behind the music. Likewise, these songs are somewhat less enigmatic than before: the melodies are ever so slightly more direct, even though intricate arrangements and hooks that sneak up on the listener are still what make this band distinctive.
On their 2010 sophomore release Part II: The New December, Los Angeles fractured pop collective Fol Chen wrote one truly great song. Lead single "In Ruins", a spindly, exotic earworm of a track was an undeniable standout that should've played to a bigger audience. Despite encouraging remix EP (and soundtracking one of the more satisfyingly strange onscreen love scenes in recent memory), "In Ruins" still cast a long, curious shadow over the rest of the wandering New December.
When Fol Chen first started receiving attention, it had a lot to do with their members committing to anonymity, even before artists like the Weeknd and WU LYF rode the same strategy to high acclaim. They were better fits for it too: Their first two studio albums, John Shade, Your Future’s Made and The New December, were both 10-song collections of complex, otherworldly electro-pop that had no singular identity and could plausibly be described using just about any word except “human”. Fol Chen’s third LP, The False Alarms, finds them striving for even more density, but somewhere along the way they lose sight of the actual songs and end up with way too much clutter.