I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect for my first time seeing Los Angeles avant pop band Fol Chen perform live. I had read that they play instruments that they themselves have invented, and wear disguises. However, with the release of their new album, False Alarms, they seem to have grown more into their own skin as artists, and they put on no facade at their recent show at Glasslands. They weren’t exactly a stripped down version of themselves, as there still seemed to be a bit of mystery magic of musicals things happening that couldn’t be seen, like pre-recorded backing vocals and other synth and sample dubs. For all the important elements, though, they did a great job recreating all the chopped and screwed pop sounds they’ve become known for.
This much was translated: effects on everything. Everything. Vocalist Sinosa Loa had some effects pedals spread before her at the front of the stage, to effect her voice a hundred different ways in a song. Guitarist Samuel Bing played a scaled down acoustic guitar – or at least that’s what it looked like, but that was never what it sounded like. He deftly played his lead lines, fingering up and down the neck, oftentimes sounding like an instrument that I wouldn’t even know what to call. But this was just one of the mirrors of the way they take basic pop structures, tweak them out, and then layer more than one interlocking structure but slightly skewed to sound fresh and sometimes almost otherworldly.
Up until Fol Chen’s set I had been thinking how the lighting (or lack thereof) had been sucking more than usual tonight, and I had also just noticed that the giant cloud installation that had hung over the stage for years had disappeared, leaving behind this open space that felt colder and more industrial than before. This strange new darkness of the venue augmented Fol Chen’s alternate reality pop and storytelling lyrics, or maybe it was the other way around, and especially when they got to “200 Words,” it was as if the band had completely taken us into their musical machinist world.
Their tourmates Valleys, from Philly, played right before. This guy/girl duo was much more brooding and droning, with washed out vocal harmonies. They seemed to have their own cheerleader section in the crowd, with people who had come out to specifically see them. The band caught my attention with the first few notes, and especially when the guitarist started to sing in his way deeper than I expected voice. After the initial impact, however, they started to lose me, and with their droning I started zoning.
Brooklyn locals SoftSpot opened. I really like this band, although they still seem to be figuring things out. For the most part, they have a distinct sound of heavy art rock leanings with vocalist/bassist Sarah Kinlaw’s aria-like vocals floating on top. They switched it up once with a more 50s doo-wop sounding slow jam tune, which was unlike any of their other songs but still fit the kind of happily brooding mood they created.
Fol Chen and Valleys are on tour together for a few more dates, ending April 9 in MA before Fol Chen returns to the west coast. SoftSpot is home with a couple more shows in the area, including a play at The Studio at Webster Hall April 14.