Friday, January 10, 2014

Record review: Circuit des Yeux - 'Overdue'

By Gene Wagendorf III    

Haley Fohr, the experimental singer-songwriter behind Circuit des Yeux, has released a handful of intriguing records over the last few years, but it's on her fourth full-length, Overdue, that she's accomplished something truly fascinating. Previous records feature Fohr switching between raw folk tunes and conceptual sound experiments that run the gamut from soothing meditations and chilling daydreams to oppressive sonic collages. On Overdue the Circuit des Yeux sound has evolved to balance these approaches, and it is that marriage of somewhat conflicting ideas within each song that makes this record so exciting. 

Overdue unfolds with "Lithonia," a majestic number that moves on the strength of a gorgeous string arrangement and Fohr's massive vocal performance. Her voice, which has long been a strong suit, shines on the track; moving effortlessly from a husky, almost operatic drawl into a desperately upbeat sway ala Bryan Ferry. "Lithonia" is warm, haunting and grand; the highlight moment of Overude whose aesthetic is strangely absent from the rest of the record. That isn't to say it's all downhill afterward, just that Fohr moves away from the lush strings and grandeur in favor of other territory.

"Hegira" opens with with Fohr's molasses vocals over ambling guitar, eventually finding compliment in squalls of feedback and tides of spectral synths. "Nova 88" winds out of silence with a twinkling, melting guitar that sounds like Thurston Moore scoring one of the ritual scenes from Eyes Wide Shut. The chords bend and buckle beneath Fohr's voice, which here again lends credence to the excessive Nico comparisons. Her wailing ramps up as the distortion does, pushed through the song's end by the introduction of a plodding drum beat. It's a bleak, almost nihilistic finish, but not a difficult or unsatisfying one.

Overdue hits another peak on the closing track of side one, "Acarina." A simple, repeated melody serves as the backdrop for a plethora of eerie sounds, warbled vocals and an echoed cry that resides somewhere between laughter and pain. The song's title becomes a ghastly mantra, with those cries growing more manic as it's repeated. "Acarina" feels like walking through someone else's dream; an austere landscape that might have been the scene of misguided ceremony or a real bad trip, only a few clinging ethereal horrors and some half-smoked cigarettes left behind.

Side two begins in about as different a fashion as imaginable, with the instrumental folk of "Bud & Gin." Ben Baker Billington of Tiger Hatchery works his percussive magic on the track, pushing its middle segment into a pastoral gallop and then bowing out for an outro of blissful tape manipulations and white noise. "My Name is Rune" shows off more of Fohr's melodic chops; it's a steady, alt-folk climb that again begs the Nico comparisons. Aside from being beautifully deliberate and hypnotically sorrowful, the song also manages to manipulate sense of time. Though its idyllic trance feels all too brief, "Rune" closes at just over five minutes. It's one of many moments on Overdue where it's nearly impossible not to get lost in the music, to move from dream to dream so invested and curious that the real world seems to fade into the shadows. While that doesn't make it ideal music to enjoy while attempting productivity, the record is an incredible escape.

While it is arguably the most accessible entry into the Circuit des Yeux catalog, Overdue is still likely a challenging listen for the Average Joe. It is, however, an astonishingly rewarding listen with very few missteps. After dozens of listens the nitpicks are few. Another appearance by Estlin Usher, who provided the string arrangements on "Lithonia," would have gone a long way in making Overdue a bit more cohesive, and would have offered another chance for Fohr to show off just how good she sounds against a quartet. There's also an argument to be made for flip-flopping album closer "Some Day" with the Michael Gira-esque tantrum of "I Am." Fohr ends that number barking the line "I want out I want out I want out I want out" over violently grimey guitars and shuffling percussion, only for the chaos to be slapped with abrupt and impressive silence. It's a stark contrast to the album's grandiose opening, and the two songs together demonstrate Circuit des Yeux's remarkable range. As an album title Overdue hits the nail on the head. An early pick for the title of Fohr's followup might be Not Soon Enough, for if this record if any indication, Circuit des Yeux is a project full of possibility with plenty more good to come. 

Circuit des Yeux's 'Overdue' is available on vinyl, CD and as a digital download here. Circuit des Yeux will be performing with Oneohtrix Point Never on Thursday, January 16th at Lincoln Hall (9pm, 18+, $15) as a part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival. Until then, check out "Lithonia" streaming below.

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