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07/03/2010 - 7:32pm
Fol Chen's Quirky Pop Returns on "The New December"
All of those masks and the choreographed mystery can’t hide the fact that Highland Park, California’s Fol Chen are rather easy to warm up to. As Samuel Bing’s oddball musical family illustrated on “Cable TV”, the 2009 song that’s their closest thing to a “hit” to date – and as they continue to make abundantly clear on their second full-length Part II: The New December, FC’s strength is electro pop with just enough experimental forays that it is at once sweet and inviting, and dissonant, even disturbing. It’s there on “In Ruins”, the album’s first single and maybe Fol Chen’s high water mark to date, on which Karin Tatoyan’s breathy vocals, knowing but twee (“wrecking round the streets tonight/ everything’s in ruins/ you look good in silent light/baby whatcha doin’?), match piano trills over pulsating electronics. “In Ruins”’ light touch isn’t matched until later in the record, on “Adeline”, where it’s Simone White on the hushed delivery, as strings, piano and finger snaps provide the backdrop, and on “C/U” wherein Sam’s deft vocals suggest the quirks of Kevin Barnes. Indeed of Montreal are one touchstone that comes to mind when listening to Fol Chen, as on the dance-happy “They Came To Me”, but so are Hot Chip, High Places, Prince (you may recall the band covered Prince last year for SPIN) and even Liars in their lighter moments. Fol Chen in fact toured with Liars earlier in the year, you can see a couple of the FC guys playing with Liars in Noisevox’s current edition of Noisemakers on Noisevox, last year Liars remixed “Cable TV” and Angus and Aaron from Liars turn up on guest vocals on the new album’s “This is Where the Road Belongs”. That song anchors a more deeply improvisational section of The New December –There’s the insular, tentative acoustics of “Men, Beasts or Houses”, and “Your Curtain Call”, which cuts a path through flute, guitar spikes, horns and a glockenspiel. Suggesting a less tortured Xiu Xiu, it’s one of the record’s more delightfully weird treats. Likewise the minimal “The Holes”, which offers up cryptic lyrics like “And you wanted to know/ if the leak was slow”. Those looking to glean too much meaning or linear sense out of Fol Chen should know they are in for a challenge. While the new album is ostensibly a companion to the band’s debut Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s made, it appears to be less overtly concept-driven than that record, and more impressionistic. There are few impressions on The New December than the record’s closing title track – Sam’s whispered voice amid warm and inviting sonic wave, it’s a blissful coda to what has been, true to Fol Chen, a fractured and unpredictable ride.