There’s Something There
The wages of secrecy for musical artists can be either obscurity or intrigue, or, in many instances, both at once. Case in point–Fol Chen. A band on its third full length release, The False Alarms, Fol Chen has yet to make its way into the ears of most audiences yet still manages to generate its own kind of special interest. Members of this band spent several years hiding their faces and shying from the public eye, only now beginning to drift into the light.
Now, what you have here is not the avant-garde spectacle you might expect from a band with a reputation as weird as Fol Chen’s. The False Alarms is surprisingly vanilla compared to most contemporary music. It sticks mostly to the tried and true pop song structures and principles that have become standard over the years. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus and all that–not that its a bad thing.
Pop song structures are popular because they work, and Fol Chen makes them work well. The False Alarms starts strong on its title track, breaking straight into a rolling krautrock beat accompanied by minimalist melodies and light vocals distorted to the point of indecipherability. Vocals and instruments mimic each other and blend into one another, becoming almost interchangeable. The album continues on in this fashion, and although it’s not a bad way to go, it feels shallow at times.
It’s tough to get into a band that sounds like it’s being led by a vocalist unless that vocalist is something special. And while Fol Chen’s Sinosa Loa is obviously talented, she is never fully heard. Her singing is so heavily distorted that it’s unintelligible most of the time, which could either be an artistic choice or a cover-up. The words actually shine through, coincidentally enough, on a track called “200 Words,” one of the more memorable moments on the album. Vocally, lyrically and musically, it’s the most solid song of the bunch.
The False Alarms is stuck between art and pop and doesn’t mesh those two philosophies the way some artists do. There’s a lot going on and it doesn’t always gel. Fol Chen sounds like it has too many chefs right now (or maybe too many cooks with no chef), but when these artists find a harmony something special happens.