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Fol Chen: Part II: The New December

B-

Fol Chen

Album: Part II: The New December
Label: Asthmatic Kitty

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Only two albums into their career, the L.A. art-pop weirdoes in Fol Chen already have a labyrinthine mythology—not that it’s particularly worth recounting. On Part II: The New December, the group members, who hide behind masks and non-sequitur-laden bios, continue to obsess over bygone Long Island radio station WLIR, a language-eating virus, and the function of bureaucracy in a post-apocalyptic world. But as with 2009’s Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made, even a narrative as outsized as that jostles for attention against the band’s infectious cut-and-paste production, which jumbles glitchy IDM beats, brittle ’80s funk lines, and music-box arrangements of woodwinds and strings into something both cutesy and menacing. Like December’s storyline, it’s fascinating but lacking cohesion: The singsong electro-pop of “The Holograms” and “In Ruins,” the horror-movie drones of the Liars-assisted “This Is Where The Road Belongs,” the stiffly soulful, Terence Trent D’Arby-evoking “C/U,” and the dainty coos of “Adeline (You Always Look So Bored)” sound like they come from completely different bands, while half-formed songs such as “Men, Beasts Or Houses” and “The Holes” sag under the weight of too many samples substituting for musical direction. Fol Chen’s commitment to writing music from a depersonalized angle is commendable as an artistic experiment—and more often than not, it surprises with unexpectedly beguiling hooks—but it’s beginning to feel like its self-imposed mystery is a cover for its identity crisis.