We talk about plenty of metal here at Nine Circles, but we also enjoy music from other genres. “Rainbows in the Dark” is our outlet to explore those other types of sounds and share them with you.
For my first crack at Rainbows in the Dark, I thought I would tackle In Plain Speech, the latest album from Indiana native turned Chicagoan Haley Fohr, who performs under the name Circuit des Yeux. Fohr recorded — and has been touring — this album with a team of Chicago musicians, including folks from bands like Bitchin Bajas, Verma and Little Scream, among others. If anyone’s looking for a non-metal album that’s still a dark and challenging listen, this is a good bet.
Fohr’s voice is the centerpiece and most readily identifable aspect of Circuit des Yeux, her Jarboe-approved low range serving as the perfect complement to her thoughtful songwriting. The amount of power behind her voice is evident on the album on songs like “Ride Blind,” where the vibrato on some of the extended notes Fohr hits sounds beyond human capability. Then there’s the soft, almost lilting, definitely pretty side of her voice that comes out in vocal loops and higher notes, like during the intro to “Fantasize the Scene.” By the end of “A Story of this World,” Fohr’s poured so much emotion into the song that her voice sounds like she’s wailing and groaning against the fairly steady and repetitive guitar and flute.
On In Plain Speech, there are traces of dark folk, psych, drone — maybe even baroque pop on “Fantasize the Scene” — but none of those tags seem accurate. Overall, it’s a remarkably cohesive work, partially because the band Fohr has assembled is able to really jam together. “Ride Blind” has a sick bass line that pulls together the rest of the instrumentation and sounds surprisingly heavy in a live setting. “I Dream of TV” is a droning piece with flutes that flutter over the top and build to an ending with vocal loops and synths. There are small interstitial pieces that hold the album together, allow for even more experimentation, and put some space in between the bigger numbers.
The first time I saw Circuit des Yeux was in a mausoleum in the dead of winter, in the old live set-up of just one woman and her acoustic guitar. I know metal bands talk about being scary, but Fohr’s live set is one of the few I’ve ever found legitimately bone-chilling. Sitting in the darkness of the mausoleum, Fohr performed in her trademark style, with her hair hanging over her face like a protective shield. Then she started laughing in the middle of her set like she was possessed by a demon, like something dark was coming out of her and enveloping the audience in the hushed and echoing atmosphere.
I think of this moment whenever I hear the first line on In Plain Speech: “There is something deep inside of you / Something that’s worth reaching into.” Here’s a taste of what that’s like: