Elusive Fol Chen Offers Dark, Whimsical Debut Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews the debut release by the L.A. band Fol Chen. The album is called Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made.


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Elusive Fol Chen Offers Dark, Whimsical Debut

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Fol Chen is a Los Angeles based band that mixes dance and pop music with more abstract experimental forms. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the band's debut release, which is called "Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made," may be very self-conscious, but also very appealing.

(Soundbite of song "Don't Follow Me")

FOL CHEN: (Singing) We don't swallow cigarettes, Breaking windows, climbing trees. Don't follow me, now. Don't follow me...

KEN TUCKER: Fol Chen commences its debut album advising us in the chorus of that opening song, don't follow me. Don't worry, Fol Chen. Who's going to try and attempt your instantly unique blend of dread and whimsy, your quietly stated intensity? The band tries to hide its faces in photographs and videos, and issues bits of information about itself that are less press releases than gnomic prose poems. Yet the group isn't nearly as arch or pretentious as what I just said would seem to imply.

(Soundbite of song "No Wedding Cake")

FOL CHEN: (Singing) I could never break your heart. I could never break your, break your, heart, again.

Listen to me, I could never break your heart, I could never break your heart again. Listen to this song. Listen to this song.

I could never break your heart, I could try to never again, Too far again (unintelligible). Listen to me, I could never break your heart...

TUCKER: Hear what I mean? How can you not develop an immediate fondness for an art-rock experiment that delivers sentiments like, "I could never break your heart," and simply beseeches us to just "listen to this song." With its perky keyboard riffs and chicken-scratch guitar, that song, called "No Wedding Cake," is a charmer. Indeed, charm and a knack for memorable melodies is what lends Fol Chen an energy too many self-consciously hip bands lack.

(Soundbite of song "The Idiot")

FOL CHEN: (Singing) Everybody here thinks I'm an idiot. Everybody here Can't stop laughing. How can that be true If I'm in love with you?

Everybody here thinks it's a big joke. Everybody here will think it's a big joke. How can that be true If I'm in love with you? If I'm in love with you?

All these jets, And all these trains, Wake up shivering again So far away, So far away.

Is it the same for you? Oh, what can I do?

TUCKER: Over synthesized beats, organ-like sounds and floating vocals, these lines sink in with quivering resonance: "Everybody here thinks I'm an idiot; how can that be true if I'm in love with you?" It's a sweet, winning sentiment, its tenderness bolstered by the firm, springy rhythms. Fol Chen's best vocals are provided by Melissa Thorne, who's already helped turn this song, "Cable TV," into an Internet-download hit.

(Soundbite of song "Cable TV")

FOL CHEN: (Singing) Now you've been working so hard, Running in circles like a robot shorting circuits. I get such a glow.

I've got to make an appointment Just to kiss you, baby. I'm not complaining, But I've got to know, Won't you come away with me?

I'm not rich, But our first night is on me. You know I just got paid, baby. I know a place, and they got cable TV...

TUCKER: A simple song about an assignation at a cheap hotel with cable TV, that composition is filled with nice little details, such as a line about, quote, "getting dizzy from the spritzers in the desert heat." It's sung by Melissa Thorne in a kind of barely inflected murmur that comes off in music like this as both brainy and sexy. And what of that unwieldy album title, "Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made"? Well, members of Fol Chen have made vague remarks that John Shade represents evil, which would seem confirmed by the song called "Please John, You're Killing Me."

(Soundbite of song "Please John, You're Killing Me")

FOL CHEN: (Singing) John Shade, Your fortune's made. You own the principles.

I got it, Gone too far, This doesn't feel like home.

And believe me, when I sold us all my heart(ph).

TUCKER: But it occurred to me that John Shade is also the name of the poet in Vladimir Nabokov's 1962 novel, "Pale Fire." I can easily imagine the members of Fol Chen, so fond of obscuring their own identities and motives, being taken with Nabokov's tale of a poet whose work is obsessively annotated by others - kind of like what happens when music critics try and take apart Fol Chen's music to see what makes it tick. No matter; as Nabokov proved, analyzing admirable but elusive allusive work only adds another layer of pleasure.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed the debut album from the band Fol Chen called "Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made." You can download podcasts of the show at freshair.npr.org. Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Bob Perdick. Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

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