Given Fol Chen’s off-kilter approach to layered pop tracks, it’s no surprise they’re releasing music on Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty imprint. The group reached notable attention with 2010’s “In Ruins,” which balanced cockeyed instrumentation with a pop-heavy hook. But, when Fol Chen isn’t covering Sufjan Stevens over a brash, crunk-influenced beat, they’re mixing musical ideas together and throwing them at the wall to see what sticks. Obviously, the results on The False Alarms vary greatly, but the album itself holds together enough to warrant a few listens.
The freshness of “I.O.U.” is especially lively because Fol Chen’s arrangement isn’t at odds with itself. The track has an uncharacteristically basic flow, and highlights Sinosa Loa’s vocals. “Boy in the Woods” possesses the same electronic weirdness as early The Knife tracks, emitting a sense of dangerous celebration and, stylistically, having pitch-shifted vocals. “Doubles” is an enjoyable combination of dark-wave influence and elements of bubblegum pop.
Fol Chen originally labeled their music as “Opera-House,” combining danceable tracks with the grandeur of live performance and lyrical prowess. Sadly, only part of their assessment rings true; Fol Chen seems interested in having a lively dance floor during their performances. Fol Chen’s lyrics could be strangely poetic but they’re so obscured by delivery, vocal effects, and the general disarray of the music that it’s hard to tell. Even the first few verses of “The False Alarms” is unintelligible gibberish, and makes the track seem like a strange place to begin.
Additionally, the same sounds that earned them a larger audience a few years back is recycled back into this album. The fluttery staccato on “A Tourist Town” sounds like rejuvenated version of “In Ruins,” which comes as a disappointment, especially since Fol Chen’s arrangement change, seemingly, by the second. The starkness of “200 Words” buries the sweetness of Loa’s vocals, which start a few minutes into the song.
Several years ago, The False Alarms would have been different enough to warrant recognition on simply being different, but this particular branch of weirdo indie-pop has started to see a massive growth. The common thread throughout this record are the same weaknesses; vocals that bleed together, overproduced arrangements, and an undeveloped ideas. The memorable moments, though excellent, are separated by unnecessarily drawn-out nothingness.