Circuit des Yeux, ‘Overdue’

Posted by on January 20, 2014


Ba Da Bing, 10/29/13

Haley Fohr’s music as Circuit des Yeux has come a long way over the past five or so years, encompassing four full-length LPs for the venerable De Stijl imprint, and a smattering of singles, tapes and EPs. Her early efforts were a grab bag of 4-track tape experimentation, hazy song sketches, minimalist piano pieces, and overblown teenage catharsis bordering on Suckdog-ian extremes. It was an undeniably heady mix of dislocated sounds, setting her apart from many of her lo-fi contemporaries. Along the way, her Ode to Fidelity single perhaps being the earliest example, she began to hone her 4-track recording skills and developed a much stronger interest in songwriting. In doing so, she revealed her most powerful asset as a musician and songwriter: her VOICE. Bellowing and beyond its years in terms of its emotional heft, Fohr’s voice captures the grittiness and soul-stirring intensity of the blues with a subtle flair for the operatic — somewhere between Odetta and Jarboe or perhaps Nico with far more range. As the intro to her last album, Portrait, informed: “The blues is . . . just a feeling within a person . . . just a down-hardness.” Though Fohr’s recent songs have not tapped into any traditional blues scales or structures, the feeling of a desperate woman blues has indeed been in there.

The sound of Fohr’s latest full-length effort, Overdue, is much cleaner and the instrumentation more expansive than previous outings thanks to the contributions of Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin’ Bajas). Though recorded in a makeshift apartment studio in Chicago, they were able to inject an airy and majestic feel into several of Fohr’s heretofore rather sparsely adorned songs. The opener “Lithonia” is the clearest example of this with its gorgeous strings that recalls Nico’s lighter fare circa Chelsea Girl. The exuberant build up of the arrangement paired with self-reflective lines like “Doesn’t it feel grand to have a second chance” makes you think that Fohr has maybe reached a turning point and perhaps those blues have subsided. Similarly, the grand church organ tones on the subsequent track, “Hegira,” elevate this otherwise minimalist Gothic folk song into something mesmerizing and beautiful. And “Bud & Gin,” at least the first half of it, is a gentle instrumental folk stroll in the countryside.

But make no mistake, though, a good half of Overdue still has a noticeably downcast, minor key blues-inflected heaviness to it. Or maybe it’s simply that Fohr’s vocal delivery has a way of making even the most mundane observations seem utterly dire. “Nova ’88”, one of the clear standout tracks on the album, sounds like a misty-eyed Springsteen anthem slowed down from 45 to 33 rpms with Fohr’s vocals building to a maniacal death-ride howl. “I Am” is a blast of overdriven downstroke pummel that damn near reaches a Swans-level of crushing intensity, as does the closer “Some Day” with its slow-building momentum and thick layers of distortion.

This may all read as though Overdue has a bit of a split personality and comes off as sort of a transitional album for Circuit des Yeux, but I’d argue that much of its strength comes from hearing Fohr explore a broader range of emotions and finding new ways to articulate her blues.