Fol Chen Fol ChenPart II: The New December
From the label Asthmatic Kitty (co-founded by Sufjan Stevens) comes Fol Chen, a Los Angeles group born from the ashes of the old Long Island radio station (of which Samuel Bing, leader of the group and some-time guitar player for his friends the Liars, was an ironclad fan). Bing grew up listening to new wave melodies ( Icicle Works are a recognised influence) until a figure named John Shade escaped from the pages of Nabokov (in the novel Pale Fire) and, according to Bing’s pop mind, silenced the radio station. The villainous John Shade succeeded until 2009, when Fol Chen put out their first LP, “Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made”, a sort of pop music with various prefixes (synth, electro, alt, etc.) like a menu of an exotic restaurant, stocked with hints of Kate Bush and even a little Talking Heads and 80’s synthesisers –which in and of themselves (in my own very personal opinion) constitute a musical genre, at the same time being an instant involuntary trip back in time.
Always preceded by an air of mystery (they say that they prefer for people to focus on their music, and they say this is the midst of the 21st century, the era of globalisation, the marketing of cannibalistic trends, the monopoly of Internet, and mobile phones with video cameras and video consoles... Do you want an example of how futile it is to try to remain in the dark as an alternative electro-pop music band? Go here. Spoiler: in the video they’re not wearing masks or make-up), Fol Chen are back with the second part, “Part II: The New December” after an album of remixes where they shared the studio with their usual collaborators (Simone White) and supposed influences (Junior Vasquez). First of all, you shouldn’t try to catalogue them or compare them with anybody, because when it seems like they seem like Prince (on a cover of “The Beautiful Ones” in 2009), the next moment they seem like Hot Chip and The Knife hitting on Madonna. I suppose the best definition is the one they gave themselves when they said they sound like Objeto (which is like a joystick or work of contemporary art that nobody understands and costs a million bucks, that appears on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Presence”).
In any case, with this second part, we see them much more focused on something more affected and bubbling than lively. Apart from the mnemonic “The Holograms”, there is an evident dichotomy: a group of songs that seek out the organic and pleasurable ( “The Holes” or “Your Curtain Call”, the last a rhythm of panting and whispers), and other songs that seek the sound of the apocalypse (understood properly), like “This Is Where The Road Belongs” and especially “Men, Beasts or Houses.” In the latter, if Gram Rabbit says that they are the band that is playing while the world is ending, Fol Chen would be what is playing right after the Big Crunch: the pulsing sea of something that is supposed to be terrible and that the Los Angeles group puts to music through solitary guitars far apart from each other, for example.
For your listening pleasure, of these two types of music “Adeline (You Always Look So Bored),” is one of the album’s great songs, semi-orchestral, with an uninhibited hypnosis, the bass lines of which (like in “In Ruins”) are videogame 16-bits and very similar to “Ninja Gaiden”. And “The New December” is a guide to sound inventiveness and bucolic preciousness that, let us not forget, is put out by a group with varied, unconnected influences, and whose textures feel very harsh to us at times. If that’s not having a style, then you’ll have to tell me what isn’t.