by trevor elkin
photograph by garrett duncan
It’s sometimes seen as cliché or met with cynicism, but it’s never easy for an artist who shares something inspired by their own suffering. Surpassing all that, ‘Reaching For Indigo’, Haley Fohr’s fifth album as Circuit des Yeux is a challenging, monumental work that is indeed personal, but also one that reconnects us to some unseen truth.
In the fabric of ‘Reaching for Indigo’, we perceive only a fraction of the life-changing event that Fohr describes as ‘a moment that fell down’ on 22 January 2016 when she says she was struck physically and spiritually by a darkness, then a bright white light which washed over her. While its effects caused convulsions and vomiting, Fohr found something uplifting and positive within them. Even without this background, ‘Reaching For Indigo’ feels like an evolving mystery story with its own transformational arc, a walk through Fohr’s subconscious as it tries to make sense of something hugely significant.
Central to Circuit des Yeux strength is Fohr’s resonant baritone. It has an incredible range – sometimes full and cello-like, sometimes a screaming tribal war-cry and everything in between. Where it was occasionally swept up in the experimental, freak folk explorations of previous albums, here we are able to hear and feel clearly the full expression of Fohr’s emotions because she chooses to use a different set of songwriting structures. It’s as if something of the polar-opposite alter ego, Jackie Lynn has stuck (it’s all Fohr of course, but that tongue-in-cheek pop side project showed yet another visionary side.)
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Circuit des Yeux writing these songs. ‘Brainshift’ with its singular tonic hum and acutely self-aware lyric “I can only promise to take up space” is a meditation on one’s place in the world, the very antithesis of egotism or narcissism. Recent release, ‘Black Fly’ echoes this sentiment, shifting suddenly midway from a gentle mariachi band tale into a hypnotic Mezcal nightmare, where trumpets and strings are transformed into angry characterisations of flies. In one sense it’s a reminder that death rests for no-one, however insignificant or easy we imagine it to be, the cycle of life is always present. ‘Philo’ is perhaps the most immediately affecting song on ‘Reaching For Indigo’. It opens with cascading continuous piano, weaving a dream underpinned by rising strings and Fohr’s glorious falsetto: “Just surrender, surrender, surrender”. There is a brief silent pause for breath, before what sounds like a revelation piercing through a confusion of cries and screams.
In context, ‘Paper Bag’ makes more sense after ‘Philo’. The hallucinatory vocal papageno calls and synesthetic chants of the track’s opening minutes now seem as a bridge from the old life to the new. A rebirth. “Put your head into a paper bag and see just what you’ll find”, Fohr cries without irony, but in realisation that might be the last available safe space anywhere. Circuit des Yeux often transcends simple politics, but here it’s hard to ignore the metaphor and its parallels with the mentally damaging paradigm shift towards extreme, inhumane views. ‘A Story Of This World Part II’ is, in contrast, a cathartic spasm of speaking in tongues – the final phase of a process of metamorphosis punctuated by the enigmatic buzzing of ‘Call Sign E8’.
The final two tracks, ‘Geyser’ and ‘Falling Blonde’ are ordinary by comparison, a return to relative normality although there is a profound sense that something has shifted. The latter song is an incredibly poignant snapshot of a singular moment in time – literally, a young blonde falling over in the street into a busy road just as the lights change to green. We imagine a slow-motion, multi angle pan around the scene as it plays out, unable to help as “everyone was yelling stop”. The moment is both simple and sad, but the knockout blow is strangely in the delicacy of telling that story and what it means to us as we hear it. Fohr’s world and ours become mixed up, sparking with new connections made beyond the framework of the album.
With its melodies and incantations lingering long after the album fades out, ‘Reaching For Indigo’ is certainly a waypoint in Fohr’s career to date. Most unexpectedly though, it leaves us with both a fresh perspective and an unshakeable question – who, or what, is Circuit des Yeux now?
‘Reaching For Indigo’ is out now on Drag City, order it here