Fol Chen continues to embrace mystery and avoid the obvious on Part II: The New December. As on Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made, the enigmatic band makes a virtue out of indirectness, sending songs through secret passages and tunnels that end in hooks some distance from where they were expected. There’s a strong experimental streak in the brainy way Fol Chen takes what seems like a straightforward idea and twists it into something completely different; like the Dirty Projectors, the group flirts with and subverts mainstream pop ideas, and like labelmates Cryptacize, they’ve got a flair for the deceptively simple. The band goes even further down the rabbit hole than on Part I, beginning The New December with some of its strangest music. “In Ruins” contrasts deep, whispered vocals with lively girlish ones atop busy keyboards playing busy, vaguely Eastern-tinged melodies; “Your Curtain Call” begins with breathy beats and woozy flutes, expanding into bells and a drunken sax solo before pulling back again; and “Men, Houses or Beasts” tiptoes so slowly that it almost sounds like it was recorded at the wrong speed. Fittingly for a band so committed to disguising its identity, some of The New December’s best songs deal with miscommunication and missed connections. On “The Holograms,” a tale of forgotten names and words doubling into optical illusions, bounces along on one of the album’s catchiest melodies, while the excellent “C/U” keeps its lovers apart despite its almost perversely straightforward beat. Likewise, the band buries some of its best songs on the album’s second half: “Adeline (You Always Look so Bored)”’s sharp-tongued chamber pop recalls St. Vincent’s abundant musical and lyrical wit, and “They Came to Me” boasts rubbery beats that are just as danceable as they are strange, and could be heard at a club with a trampoline for a dancefloor. How exactly these songs fit together with “Holes”’ delicate plucking and the title track’s pixelated folk might be locked in Fol Chen’s brains, but even if there are more pieces of their puzzle-pop missing here than there were on John Shade, Your Fortune’s Made, The New December is never boring.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares