Fol Chen's blips have become blippier, their pop moments have grown poppier, and their clashes with noise have gotten noisier on the band's second release.
Fol Chen is not just another electro-pop band, nor another electro-pop-cum-noise band. They are an electro-art-pop-noise-lite-whateverhaveyou band with a concept. In a continuation from last year's debut, Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made, their tale of an ongoing battle with Vladimir Nabokov creation John Shade and a language-eating virus, and the subsequent apocalypse, continues to unfold. Not much progression should be expected from such a blatant continuation as Part II: The New December, but in the short time that has passed, Fol Chen's blips have become blippier, their pop moments have grown poppier, and their clashes with noise have gotten noisier. Although the concept is valiantly overblown, the journey it takes a listener on is mostly enjoyable.
It can be argued that Part I's highlight was the sleazy goofy single "Cable TV". With it, and without the artifice of a concept weighing it down, Fol Chen revealed their secret weapon of multi-instrumentalist and sometime vocalist Melissa Thorne. Thorne possesses neither a distinct nor full-bodied voice, but something about its detached creepiness endeared long after the song concluded. On Part II's "In Ruins", Thorne, or perhaps another female Fol Chen cohort (most of Fol Chen's members like to use stage names or remain anonymous) layers the apocalyptic come-ons over dainty electro beats and arises just as saucy as any pop diva of the moment.
After that early highlight, Part II dips and rises. It should not be surprising that the other standout tracks are "Adeline (You Always Look So Bored)", where detached yet seductive female coos again step to the forefront, and "C/U", a successful exercise in R&B with a smooth chorus that would be quite at home on mainstream radio. Elsewhere, songs are percussive, wordless, or both, and contain just the faintest of hooks. On tracks such as "Men, Beasts, or Houses", acoustic and percussive elements intermingle to produce a heady sonic assault. As befitting of an album that deals in part with a language-eating virus, the device of using barely discernible lyrics works well. Songs such as "This Is Where the Road Belongs" don't fare as successfully, with repetition wearing the hooks down to just a vague memorability. Part II's less poppy endeavors need not be classified as failures, but after a listener hears what Fol Chen can do as a pop band, their artier stabs can leave one feeling a little vacant.
Although genre-jumping bands who employ "electro" elements to their approach seem to stick around for a shorter period than those who do not, Fol Chen certainly show signs of brightness. They already have fans in Liars, a band that doesn't defy genres to the same extent, but one that is highly capable of mutating its sound. Fol Chen's more experimental side should not be shut off completely, it would just be nice if they contributed some more of their energy toward further sharpening their killer pop hooks and R&B grooves. Doing so could see them laying waste to not just John Shade and language viruses, but to the charts as well.