IN THE AGE of bands tweeting their bedtime routines and singers having adolescent freakouts on comment threads, it seems like there's no mystery left in music. Los Angeles' Fol Chen, though, believe there's magic in the unseen. From the beginning they've been canny about their identities, and the upcoming Part II: The New December continues the heroic/tragic narrative from their debut. "I've always been drawn to bands that don't reveal very much," says band mastermind Samuel Bing. "When you tell someone, 'You can't know that,' they are instantly hell-bent on uncovering whatever it is you're concealing from them."
Fol Chen's sound is a kind of electro-prog, and shares affinities with acts like the Dirty Projectors and Liars, two of whose members guest on Part II. Like those bands, Fol Chen is drawn to extended narratives, though more for practical purposes than as grand mystical statements. "I like telling stories because they are a good way to talk about the world as you see it without saying dorky things like, 'This is the world as I see it,'" explains Bing.
Nevertheless, the story resonates. Their 2009 debut told a heroic tale of insurgents conquering an oppressive power, but Part II finds the heroes transformed into bureaucrats. It's a timely transition in this post-election era of malaise and disappointment.
Despite the complexity, Fol Chen tends much more toward pop than any of their peers. "Cable TV," from their debut Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made, remains winning, and Part II's "C/U" combines a banging "Hollaback Girl" beat with a sweet melody. Despite the digital hiccups and quiet patches, Fol Chen's dominant mode is an energetic one. And live, they're likely to break out a well-chosen cover, which in the past have ranged from "The Beautiful Ones" to "Hey Jealousy." These aren't gimmicks; they fit right in with Fol Chen's musical approach.
"I guess the closest I'll ever come to being Prince, or Roger Waters, or Mariah Carey is to learn their songs and try to dismantle and rebuild them," says Bing. "That's kind of scratching the itch and getting the artistic reward all in one."