Circuit Des Yeux

Reaching For Indigo

From singer, musician and artist Haley Fohr, a very modern record rooted in the avant-garde music of 50 years ago.

Much has been made of this remarkable album’s backstory: how it was inspired by a mysterious moment of physically debilitating epiphany in Haley Fohr’s life which, among other things, left her seeing colours with a painful intensity for several months. This is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant: knowing the details won’t bring the listener any closer to understanding what Reaching For Indigo is “about”. More useful perhaps is the key line from the album’s pivotal track: “Stick your head into a paper bag and see just what you find” – immerse yourself in this record and see what speaks to you.

Reaching For Indigo is rooted in the avant-garde music of half a century ago, but never feels retro. It’s a modern record, made by a singer with an incredible four-octave baritone range who works as an artist as much as a musician, comfortable with digital technology and collaging techniques, never striving for a naturalistic, ‘live in the studio’ sound. The tropes of romantic art are self-consciously manipulated, but the artifice is made plain, and the finished work feels more real as a result.

‘Brainshift’ alludes to transformation – “Brain shift, came like a tidal wave” – as Fohr’s vocal snakes over minimal keyboards and horns – it’s warm, rich and clearly dangerous as fortified wine. She could be talking about a stroke or a head injury, the stately pace of the song reflecting the attempt to cope with that moment when everything changes, when you can’t remember anyone’s name and feel like all you can do is stand there, taking up space. The formal, impressive quality of the singing contrasts with the almost conversational quality of the words, and a lyrical nod to Alan Vega’s ‘Jukebox Babe’ is telling – there’s the same honest, unflinching minimalism here as in Suicide’s best work.

‘Black Fly’ sways along in waltz-time, giving it a Jacques Brel/Nina Simone sense of epic melodrama that gradually builds and then disintegrates into sci-fi weirdness. It recalls the first Roxy Music album, with Fohr as both languorous crooner Ferry and subverting scientist Eno. There’s a knowingly sentimental, torch-song fatalism undercut by the rising chaotic tide of sound effects and cut-ups, a futurism that refuses to wallow in romantic notions of doomed heroism – “You’re not the dark star they wanted you to be” – even as it plays with the resonances of such a stance.

The tumbling piano and rolling drums of ‘Philo’ also build up, increasing the tension until Fohr breaks out her best Diamanda Galás on the coda, howling over discordant strings and synth notes. Throughout the record Circuit Des Yeux draw as much on modern jazz and minimalist composition as folk and blues, as also demonstrated by the Terry Riley-like psychedelic swirl of oscillating organ and abstract vocal sounds that make up the first two minutes of ‘Paper Bag’. This standout track then shifts gear into an acoustic, rolling folk-blues over loose driving drums, recalling nothing less than the Tim Buckley of Starsailor, the surface simplicity hardly detracting from the breathtaking intensity of the performance. ‘Paper Bag’ cuts straight into ‘A Story Of This World Pt II’ and I hear them as one epic piece; ‘Story…’ is already in full flight when it begins, a tight avant-garde unit rocking out on a magnificent Crazy Horse-meets-early Velvet Underground groove, with Fohr yelping and ululating over the top, finally speaking in tongues. It’s a wild electrical storm to lose yourself in, furious and elemental.

The album ends with the great descending slab-like church organ chords of ‘Falling Blonde’, Fohr narrating a mysterious incident with a macabre, surrealist tone. As the quivering strings sweep in, the track comes close to self-parody but never crosses the line; the signifiers of gothic melodrama are milked but framed in an almost Lynchian sense of enigmatic detachment. Reaching For Indigo is an album about transformation, and is an act of alchemy in its own right. Stick your head into this bag, and see what you can find.

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