Circuit des Yeux, “Reaching for Indigo”

Circuit des Yeux
Reaching for Indigo
DRAG CITY
8/10

Haley Fohr’s musical oeuvre as Circuit des Yeux is often praised for its singularity, its very sui generis quality. Her arresting baritone singing voice, detailed approach to instrumentation and synthesizing, and poetic lyrical style that favors weighty lines over verses and choruses have historically pointed to a very individualistic approach to the songwriting craft. It’s as if to say, uncompromisingly, “This is me, take it or leave it.

But the arc of that narrative overlooks what’s actually quite key to understanding Fohr and her point of view. It’s not solely individualism that drives the work. It’s also her commitment to musical community and dedication to honoring specific places in time with those peers, friends, and lovers that inspires—however cloaked in otherworldly tonality the songs might be.

Her full band effort began in earnest when she signed with experimental label Thrill Jockey for her 2015 album In Plain Speech. For that record she enlisted select members of the Chicago underground, and took them on tour in various formations. Her debut for Drag City, Reaching for Indigo, doubles down on those communal instincts—drawing personnel from the very vibrant Chicago folk, experimental, and free jazz scenes for strings, drums, bass, piano, synthesizers, and other instrumentation. Co-produced by Fohr and Cooper Crain (of Cave and Bitchin Bajas), Reaching for Indigo is a heady brew of Fohr’s songwriting, voice, and twelve-string guitar playing co-mixing with an ace cast of collaborators. It’s a fully-realized synthesis of her distinctiveness and her desire for community—and it’s a revelation.

Taken as a whole, Reaching for Indigo is rather unexampled, though sonic reference points are heard throughout the album’s eight tracks. The first half of single “Paper Bag” nods to krautrock masters and Terry Riley’s repetitions, while the string arrangements on “Philo” and “Falling Blonde” recall Scott Walker. Fohr’s harnessed the unbridled energy of her low register vocal power, too, resulting in performances that are varied yet cohesive, traversing mountains of powerful professions and valleys of hushed meditation. “A Story of This World Part II” memorializes a Christmas Day jam session among Fohr and her friends including Crain, percussionist and Crain bandmate Rob Frye, Whitney Johnson of Matchess on viola, Brian Sulpizio on drums, and local guitar hero Ryley Walker. The album notes invite the listener to “create your own language” when listening to the song, a multi-layered example of Fohr’s radical inclusion.

Though it’s her most accessible album to date, Reaching for Indigo continues in Fohr’s mission of experimentalism and self-expression, aided by a trusted coterie of creative minds and capable hands that she diligently credits in the album notes and from the stage when she performs. Musically it’s her best work yet, and a very visible career milestone. It’s the ripe, ambrosial fruit of a woman forging her path—without going it alone.

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