When Fol Chen first started receiving attention, it had a lot to do with their members committing to anonymity, even before artists like the Weeknd and WU LYF rode the same strategy to high acclaim. They were better fits for it too: Their first two studio albums, John Shade, Your Future’s Made and The New December, were both 10-song collections of complex, otherworldly electro-pop that had no singular identity and could plausibly be described using just about any word except “human”.
Fol Chen’s third LP, The False Alarms, finds them striving for even more density, but somewhere along the way they lose sight of the actual songs and end up with way too much clutter. It’s as if in an effort to prove themselves as dexterous wizards of maximalist electro-pop, they decided the album couldn’t afford to relent for a single moment. That ends up being their fatal error here. Proving themselves was never the issue – Fol Chen certainly can craft elaborate maximalist moments, but they fail to demonstrate that they know how to make them work; The False Alarms is marked by a frustrating lack of movement, direction, or variance. In other words, it’s tough to be energized by moments like the spontaneous sitar outro of “A Tourist Town” when that level of claustrophobic sound layering is the benchmark all along.
That’s not to say that any of this is just run-of-the-mill, electronic dance bait. There are still remarkably peculiar moments happening from end to end, and they even go all the way down to the cores of some songs, like the anti-melodic “Hemispheres” and “This Place Is On TV”. But anti-melody can be a tricky thing to build music around, and as with a number of The False Alarms’ traits, it doesn’t work when done just for its own sake. For the otherworldliness to mean something, it’s important that there’s still some discernible personality peeking out from underneath.
Essential Tracks: “A Tourist Town”