One part The XX, one part Liz Harris, one part Trent Reznor, and one part game theory, Fol Chen’s new record The False Alarms is a pleasant and ultimately compelling trip into the world of electropop. The band is known for their pastiche approach to music-making, and have been party to a whole host of strange recordings, exhibits and instruments, but False Alarms is not so much strange as it is considerate: slow-moving, weighty, and ponderous. It’s not an exciting record, but it is a deliberate one.
For the first time on a Chen record, vocals are handled mostly by just one band member: Sinosa Loa. Loa’s voice wanders through the electronic landscape of the record or it floats above it, her simple melodies rarely unprocessed, a sort of sing-song accompaniment to the throbbing drums and swooning synths of the instrumentals. The record is eerie or strange just as often as it is poppy and melodic; as an album, False Alarms feels cohesive and balanced, more a whole composition than a collection of songs. Brooding opener “The False Alarms” sets a tone for the record that is mirrored by the darkly-mellow last cut “This Place Is On TV.” Tracks like “You Took The Train” and “IOU” quicken the pace a bit, but overall the meditative idea of the album stays intact.
There are some false steps, however: the glammy “A Tourist Town” reaches for cheap pop sonics and lands instead in faux-80s camp, a development so severe and so early in the record that it nearly derails the whole enterprise. Thankfully, by “200 Words,” the listener has mostly forgotten the glitz, starting instead to wonder whether the rest of the record will use the same repetitive minimalist synth loops as the last three songs. And indeed they do. It’s not boring, per se, but it isn’t really interesting either. Damn.
All in all The False Alarms is good enough: it hits all the right notes (plus a few wrong ones), even if it hits them over and over and over. I would describe it, under duress as enjoyable in small doses. Get it and enjoy it and then move on from it. Fol Chen probably has more interesting (and weirder) stuff up their sleeve for the future.
3 / 5 bars
Fol Chen – The False Alarms
Fol Chen – You Took The Train
Fol Chen – Boys In The Woods