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Live review: Fol Chen and Baths at the Echo

July 7, 2010 |  3:22 pm

If Prince had decided to take up esoteric mathematics instead of sex-god funk, that career might be  something Fol Chen could get behind. The Highland Park band's screwball pastiche pop sounds like an algebra problem but feels like a come-on. At Tuesday night's release party for Fol Chen's second album, "Part II: The New December" (which, admittedly, should have taken by Coheed and Cambria), the band pulled the neat trick of making its two impulses -- danceable pop immediacy and its need to run every song through a paper shredder -- feel unexpectedly simpatico.

For an act that goes by aliases, riffs on Nabokov's penchant for misdirection and refuses to show its members' faces in photos, Fol Chen really is a singles band. Members had a humdinger in the jaunty, deadpan "Cable TV" from their debut, "Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made." They have another one, "In Ruins," from this record that should be enough to carry them nationally. It starts with a junk-shop Arabesque synth riff, dragging fuzz bass and one of the creepiest pickup lines in recent rock: "You look good by siren light." But the end result has a sort of jerky, bloodless R&B simmer that's unexpectedly entrancing. 

The band can translate this odd sentiment live. A run touring with Liars (which shares a CalArts mafia connection with Fol Chen's Adam Goldman, a sometimes-Liar live who goes by Samuel Bing in his band) did wonders to tighten its set -- the band's three-part harmonies were both exacting and giddy, and any wanton control-alt-deleting that happens in their studio felt organic and true onstage. For an act that relies so heavily on computer splicing on record, the band proved that some severe musicianship underpins the whole apparatus -- Goldman and his upfront cohorts get the affection, but the band's watertight rhythm section is what cements its broken art-funk and makes it less a project and more of a party.

Fol Chen's big visual takeaway also seemed apropos. Goldman smeared his very bearded face in black eye makeup that looked both obscuring, self-aware silly and compellingly cryptic. Fol Chen should have no problem confounding some much bigger rooms in the months to come.

On the opposite end, the severely endearing glitch project Baths, the nom de guerre of 21-year-old Will Wiesenfeld, disguised absolutely nothing in its closing set. Wiesenfeld is a scruffy showman in the spirit of James Murphy -- an unlikely frontman clearly in love with the idea of having a room of eyes on him. He devoted equal effort to air-conducting some imaginary symphony as he did to wrangling his laptop rig.

Baths' music shares some DNA with the L.A. beat scene's brain-melt arrangements, but his take is much airier and more treble-heavy than those peers. Choral samples and woozy strings get a seat at the head of the table, as do his eager falsetto-vocal stacks. Imagine if Low End Theory moved from the Airliner into a terrible '80s Chrysler's sun-damaged tape deck, and you had someone really pretty to kiss while the party played on loop. That's a start.  

-- August Brown 


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