Fol Chen could be a wildly popular and great pop band if it wanted to, but it isn’t playing that game. In the past, “it isn’t playing that game” might not have been preceded by a “thankfully”, but things are a little different on third release The False Alarms. Gone are the difficult to grasp concepts (I didn’t even remember Fol Chen’s debut, Part 1: John Shade Your Fortune’s Made and follow-up, Part II: The New December were concept albums until I re-read the press release), meandering tunes, and alternating vocalists. For The False Alarms, the band wisely chose to situate keyboardist Sinosa Loa as sole singer on the album’s ten tracks. Although “lyrically dense storytelling” is still a goal of the group, without the pressure of a unifying concept, the themes of the songs seem to come to the fore more strongly.
But enough with analysis, let’s cut to the chase; the best thing about Fol Chen is its sexiness. Musical sex appeal continues to remain largely absent from most indie releases, save a few daring artists here and there. Fol Chen showed signs of becoming one of those artists on The New December and it has thankfully arrived on The False Alarms. If a song like “Boys in the Woods” were created by a band like Ladytron, it would be the standard asexual electro that so many electronically-indebted bands favor. In Fol Chen’s hands, it becomes a dirty treat of deviant undertones; if there is a unifying theme to The False Alarms, it may be a collection of glimpses into the sex lives of those who survived the apocalypse.
When The False Alarms isn’t being redeemed by its sexiness, it’s forging saving graces through the different inspired vocal treatments applied to Loa’s voice, and some seriously great pop hooks. On other Fol Chen albums, “You Took the Train” and “Doubles” could have qualified as throwaways, but Samuel Bing and Loa’s songwriting has improved enough that songs such as these stay in your head far longer than they have right to. Likewise, the album’s token slow song, “Hemispheres”, comes across as fleet where past album breathers have dragged.
The False Alarms does still suffer a few missteps. The opening title track plunges us right into the effects-laden vocals with one of the less successful treatments; “A Tourist Town”, with its lyrical conceit being similar to The New December‘s minor hit, “In Ruins”, would have acted as a catchier and more connective opener. At times, you wish that Fol Chen would drop the vocal trickery altogether and just make a straight up pop song, even if just for a lark. Still, there is enough in The False Alarms to suggest Fol Chen has a bright future, even with songs whose lyrics sometimes allude to a barren one. As long as the sexy part of the formula isn’t tampered with, there is nothing wrong with a little wreckage.
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