Fol Chen really wants to be weird. In 2009, the Los Angeles based indie sextet shrouded the release of their first album in secrecy, concealing the group members’ names and identities and issuing a press release in which they described themselves as sounding like "that mysterious black object that the creepy family is staring at on the cover of Led Zeppelin's Presence album.” I mean, come on. Even after listening to their sophomore album, Part II: The New December—which admittedly does sound like that mysterious object (think enigmatic, wonky, a little bizarre)—I think that giving yourself description is a little on the pretentious side.
And so is Part II: The New December. Fol Chen's official website provides little more than an intentionally vague and elusive video public service announcement featuring actor Brian Cox as insight into their new release (if you can call him reciting the lyrics from “In Ruins” insight: “Walking down the street tonight/Everything’s in ruins/You look good by siren light/Baby whatcha doin?” WTFol Chen?). To validate creating this kind of hype, whatever product you’re pushing had better be freaking rad.
The New December opens with three fairly strong tracks “The Holograms,” “In Ruins,” and “Curtain Call.” “Holograms,” full of odd digital blips and dark drum machine beats, sounds like it should be accompanied by a Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands factory line scene (I bet you love that description, don’t you, Fol Chen?). The rhythmic essence introduced here reappears throughout the eclectic rest of the album. “In Ruins,” one of the most cohesive songs on the album, includes both the original core strong tempo as well as some interesting piano and sugary vocals from singer Melissa Thorne. The beat from “Curtain Call” is catchy and reminiscent of the Dirty Projectors or Of Montreal, but with a unique, quirky spin.
The album proceeds to branch out stylistically, including everything form frenetic dance-pop beats to eerie whispering, all the while retaining the same whimsy underpinnings from earlier tracks. Although the sporadic, superficially disjointed nature of the album may come across as off-putting to more conservative listeners, it is hard not to garner an appreciation for the group’s creativity.
Fol Chen wants to be weird, which they accomplished, but it took me a while to care about that. It was hard to get past all the hype and listen to Fol Chen for what they are…but isn’t that the point? They have built up a labyrinthine mythology around their music, which can at times do more to distract than intrigue—but from what I can tell, they are interested in creating a distraction. Though it doesn’t quite live up to the mystique incited by Brian Cox’s dramatic monologue, Fol Chen’s unusual, almost discordant music stands on its own as, at least, a noteworthy experiment and a decent second album.
Recommendations: “In Ruins”, “Your Curtain Call”
-- Emma Forster