Fol Chen’s “Part II The New December”

“Cryptic, eclectic, ironic, The New December succeeds in being a suitable soundtrack for a twittering age.” -HE

Holly Etchison

out of 10

Part II The New December
June 22, 2010

Masked and anonymous as we in this age of information can tend to be, the members of Fol Chen are riding into the indie pop airwaves again with their second release, Part II The New December, the follow up, naturally, to Part I John Shade Your Fortune’s Made. As unpredictable in sound as a Matisse in color, the Los Angeles sextet headed by Samuel Bing offers up another carefully scrambled story of modern urbanites mingling eighties pop favorites with avant-garde chamber music and digital experimentation.

As “The Holograms” begins things, I am suddenly Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink”–New Order’s “Shellshock” escorts me to school. Kárin Tatoyan happily sings in a clippy robotic way: “First the words were good, they helped us understand/ But then the sounds were tough, like holograms… I’m so sorry/ I’ve forgotten your name/ I forgot my own.” My little brother, 15, within hearing range, began dancing.

“In Ruins” continues the story of urban demise as Prince and Sheena Easton might’ve done in “U Got the Look.” It goes: “Walking around the streets tonight/ Everything’s in ruins,” the stand out tag line is romantic irony: “You look good by siren light.”

Slightly jarring, “This Is Where The Road Belongs,” with its repetitive booming, sounds like an industrial construction site until the end, where it takes a lovely acoustic turn, indistinguishable lyrics flow from a phonograph. The stringed weirdness of “Men Beasts Or Houses” links Tom Waits to the darker side of Joseph Haydn; the phone is off the hook at the end–the singers chant “tra la, tra la la la, tra la, tra la la la.” It’s all a bit unnerving.

Thankfully, the action is lightened for a streak with “C U” and “Adeline.” Lightened, and well, kinda derailed. On “C U” it seems I have picked up a missing Backstreet Boys single masterminded by Devo (one that now, incidentally, I keep putting on replay). The concept of broken communication is visited again however via a classic boy band-solo-sing at the end: “I try to read them but the phrases stop and start.” “Adeline” could possibly be sharing the same baseline as the “Fletch” soundtrack; on the other hand, my little brother thought I was playing a video game. A sweet little segue of piano keys and strings comes to the rescue and another disjointed member of society is described: “Adeline, you’ve seen all this before/ So what’s another season to ignore?”

“They Came To Me” is potentially a horror movie set in a discoteque…”You see all the flesh but not the disguise/ It seems like they know something but they hide.” At the end you are jogging in place, until, that is, the cool down of “The New December,” whose whispered lyrics will have you drifting to sleep on a train, looking thru half open eyes at a wintry landscape. My little brother pipes up once more: “This is like soundscapes; you know, that music without the words.” Hmm.

So what is the “mature” listener’s perspective? Cryptic, eclectic, ironic, The New December succeeds in being a suitable soundtrack for a twittering age. Fragments of sound and voice, pieces of the iconic eighties wedged into a digital age, create a musical collage that might make a clever postcard. On the back: Having a blast. Wish you were here.

–Holly Etchison, July 19, 2010