The eclecticism of pop music has always been its best-suited aspect: a true, tested and long-lasting versatility that will only get better with time. Recently, more and more artists have begun to stretch its boundaries – digging and scratching through the tangled spectrum – and its umbrella is, along with its sister genre, electronic music, extremely far-reaching. And in such eclectic spirits, Fol Chen’s strikingly bold 2009 album, Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made, made use of all of those dimensions in the aforementioned spectrum to make a truly innovative album. It was the substantially fashionable freshness of it all: creative and traditionally sound.
Whether or not Part II: The New December is steadied and readied as an opportunity to cash in on winning success (they were featured in everything ranging as far as NPR and a video collaboration with the Laker Girls), this is another great compression of darkly layered pop and stellar IDM. “This is Where the Road Begins” sounds like a mix of the stomping drive of Muse’s latest works with a gloomy banging of tribal drums and synths bubbling in the water – the twist with the escalated keyboard and horn section that dies to a lonely ending is one of the album’s key points. But, in a nutshell, that’s exactly what Fol Chen’s music truly is: a mixture, a blend, a compilation of Earthly sounds that just happen to sound well with an equally colorful arrangement of pop music.
The static that precedes “The Holograms”’s radio-friendly vibes and keyboards are just enough dissention and darkness to confuse even the most casual listener. And throughout the song the band finds various ways of transitioning their tormenting styles and moods by way of addicting melodies and peculiarly-shaped backdrops. So much of the album’s music is so steeped into the known and unknown that you often wonder what exactly a burring machine has to do with a rich poppy riff; however, Fol Chen make it work.
Even when examining it all from the outside, most of the music feels a bit too safe for its own good. Then again, the day that music isn’t trying to be pleasing or enjoyable anymore, is a lost cause. “C/U” is where the sextet delves deepest into the frail funk and R&B they are definitely capable of and truly, it reigns. The beats are big and meaty and the chorus of soul-singers is a generous heaping of Motown-influenced bands. You end up falling for so many of the other choice cuts that you seemingly forget about “In Ruins”’s Asian hints, which also happens to features Kárin Tatoyan’s sweetly breathy vocals. It’d be even more impressive to see them take an even more experimental swing next time, too.
For where this section of Fol Chen’s music takes us, there really isn’t much of an answer to it. Part II: The New December is definitely a uniquely strange proportion of delicately presented music. The music revels in early 80s fare towards the end of the album and by then, it’s evidently clear how dynamic they really are. It’s the strength on their sophomore album, and a surprisingly strong one at that.
“In Ruins” by Fol Chen