Haley Fohr’s stellar 2013 album Overdue—her 4th under the pseudonym Circuit Des Yeux—was her breakthrough, with its title suggesting that, finally, the immensely talented artist with the otherworldly baritone voice was delivering on her enormous potential. Overdue, a song-oriented record, contained an edgy sense of immediacy and intimacy in its autobiographical poetry that explored rarely reached emotional depth—a feat in a scene where so many artists barely venture beneath the surface. On the success of the album, Fohr signed to Thrill Jockey—a considerable rung or two up the indie record label ladder—before releasing her most recent album In Plain Speech, which was released on May 19th. The acclaim garnered by Overdue always meant that it was going to be a challenge forthe new record to measure up.
With Thrill Jockey, Fohr has been afforded resources that have opened her up to larger opportunities. “Up until this album, I’ve been one person trying to do everything,” Fohr tells me. “It feels like a huge step forward.” Unsurprisingly, it is immediately apparent that In Plain Speech is very much a transition—at least temporarily—to a more collaborative approach for Circuit Des Yeux. The record took eight months to make from start to finish, was recorded in three different studios, and features a cast of talented players. The fluttery first track “KT 1” is a buoyant 45” ambient piece that does not feel like something that could have been found on a previous Circuit Des Yeux album. The track sets the tone for what is a surprisingly rich, intricate record, one that is immaculately arranged and stitched together.
The driving samples on the next track, “Do the Dishes,” loop together in a swirling, hypnotic rhythm that underlies the sparse and powerful feminist lyrics about a woman’s isolation in day-to-day life. It is also on this second track that Fohr’s husky and enveloping vocals make their first appearance. At her best, Fohr’s voice recalls the harrowing starkness of Nico and the all-conquering majesty of Catherine Ribeiro. It evokes a timelessness that distinguishes her from her peers and has the ability to turn ordinary songs into special ones. Fohr’s voice seems to be a pitch or two deeper on In Plain Speech than in her previous work, and in “Do the Dishes” it builds perfectly along with the looping sample, in a crescendo that abruptly stops and fades into over a minute of tense, dark ambient interplay. “Do the Dishes” has also been released as a music video, which should be required viewing for those interested in this album. Fohr states, “The video clearly magnified the message I was trying to express.” The powerful (NSFW) video highlights the fact that “Do the Dishes” is the most important song on In Plain Speech. According to Fohr, “The idea for the video came to me one day and once I thought of it, I felt a responsibility to execute.”
“Ride Blind” is the album’s third track, and her voice remains exquisite. But, for lack of a better expression, there is also a lot more going on sonically, and that is problematic—drums crash, stringed instruments soar in and out. The song presents a possible new direction for Circuit Des Yeux, one of rich orchestration and carefully designed arrangements. The track works well within the context of the album, but it’s also fair to consider whether or not the more minimal approach of her last album, which made it so captivating, has been lost. On first listen, In Plain Speech appears to eschew the intimacy that made Overdue not only Fohr’s best, but one of the best albums of the last couple years. Fohr admits that she felt very different when she began writing In Plain Speech than she did for Overdue. “I couldn’t make another isolated, song-oriented record. I don’t know if this is a redirection. I just always have to follow my muse,” she says. Fairly, in order to fully enjoy and appreciate the new record, one must stop comparing it to the previous ones and trust that her new collaborative approach can still conjure the strange magic that makes Circuit Des Yeux such an essential artist.
That trust is rewarded in “Dream of TV”—the centerpiece of the album—a thrilling, nearly eight-minute ride that wouldn’t sound out of place in some of the last decade’s most compelling noise/ambient records (bands like the Fun Years and Belong come to mind). For five minutes, “Dream of TV” builds and builds until it hits a cathartic peak and Fohr’s voice cascades over the sonic landscape, before the song slowly fades out. Regarding the collaborative nature of this record and tracks such as “Dreams of TV,” Fohr tells me, “There is an underlying message within the context of the lyrics, and album as a whole. I am really trying to reach out to people through this music, to open a dialogue and be involved with others.” It’s hard to argue that it turned out any other way.
Circuit Des Yeux will be hitting the road hard from June through November, both as a solo act and with her band. Circuit Des Yeux will be in New York City on July 2nd at SubCulture and July 3rd at Trans-Pecos. These will be solo sets.