Fol Chen are often slapped with the ever-present post-millenial moniker “synthpop.” While that is a perfectly fine shorthand, a close read renders it reductive. Listening through The False Alarms” you understand why “synthpop” would be the first description of them, but you also hear the subtle undertones–synth lines that unsettle rather than work with the melody, very obvious house influences, and industrial drum beats that litter the album from start to end. Certainly you can call them synthpop but Fol Chen are a perfect example of how sometimes, a single genre simply cannot fully describe all the nuances of a band, especially one as experimental as this.
Fol Chen are signed to Asthmatic Kitty, the record label lead by the famously eclectic Sufjan Stevens and its obvious that there’s a certain aesthetic expected of its artists. A desire to blur the line between genre’s definitely, and perhaps futuristic, forward thinking beats. The outro to title track “The False Alarms” could sit comfortably within The Age of Adz. That’s not to say Fol Chen are simply a pastiche though, they start with a similar idea but they come to very different results.
A common feature in Fol Chen songs are staccato vocals from lead singer Sinosa Loa who, in a depature from their group shared vocals of the past, sings lead on all ten songs featured on The False Alarms. The stuttered jarring contrasts well with Loa’s dreamy, ethereal voice and is on full display on stand out track “I.O.U.” It’s a voice that doesn’t seem quite real, like one you would expect from an artificial intelligence. It’s quite likely that this is the intent, with echo knobs turned all the way up, and it fits well in the context of the beats on display.
As commendable as their attempts at exploring different genre’s are, Fol Chen do sound their best at their poppy moments. The attempt to create a repetitive catchy hook on “Boys in the Woods” sounds forced, just as the eerie organs and pitched down vocals on “200 Words” are too contrived to be effective. It’s in the bollywood infused dream pop of “A Tourist Town” and the girl-next-door lyrics and twinkling synths of “I.O.U” where Fol Chen really shine.
Its obvious Fol Chen are dedicated to the idea of pushing boundaries in music, they once invited guest singers sourced from craigslist to play live with them, but its good to see that they don’t allow the desire to experiment to overwhelm the desire to make a catchy song.