The events that inspired Reaching for Indigo—Haley Fohr’s stunning fifth album as Circuit Des Yeux—sound at once like an exorcism and an epiphany. As the Lafayette, Ind.-born, Chicago-based songwriter tells it, she mysteriously collapsed one night in early 2016 and found herself “convulsing and vomiting and crying” on the floor. Afterwards, she moved out of her home and eventually adopted a more open understanding of the world around her. In the liner notes, she dedicates Reaching for Indigo to that moment in her life. The jarring story is a fitting progression in the strange evolution of her music, which has always grappled with the way life and nature can change us, despite our efforts to find some thread of logic through it all.
Last year, Fohr took a break from Circuit Des Yeux to pursue a simpler, more straightforward project. The self-titled album she released under the name Jackie Lynn was essentially country music, a set of rumbling, catchy, low-stakes tunes that eschewed the formless sprawl of her previous work. But the quiet, one-off experiment developed a life of its own. The album soon found her faced with new fans, festival slots, and cover stories. “I’m not saying I changed the course of modern music or anything like that,” she reflected at the time, “But it has got a little bit out of hand.”
Reaching for Indigo is Fohr’s first Circuit Des Yeux album since 2015’s In Plain Speech, but it has a lot in common with Jackie Lynn. While In Plain Speech was exceptionally heavy and adventurous—in one song, she played guitar, noisily and viciously, using a butter knife—Reaching for Indigo makes a more immediate connection, marked by warmer, more sophisticated tones. It’s an album bursting with ambition, alternating between moments of intimate beauty and stretches of dense, disorienting fog. Sometimes, the eight-song record plays like a more traditional set of music transforming and corrupting itself in real time. The long, winding “Paper Bag” builds from a spacey ambient burble into a staggering primal chant. In the lyrics, she instructs the listener to breathe into a paper bag. Then she narrates, with a dazzling, somewhat unstable intensity, as you find yourself exploring a surreal new world inside of it.
More than anything, Reaching for Indigo is a showcase for Fohr’s voice: a singular, transformative instrument. “At one point a few years ago I was really concerned because my voice was getting lower and lower and lower,” she recently observed, “It has its own life.” These songs are the most effective showcases for her singing yet, as she hums and warbles and howls over music that refuses to sit still. The apocalyptic, amorphous “Black Fly” begins on acoustic guitar and billows away into something darker, and it’s emblematic of the album as a whole; Fohr’s deep yet fragile singing dictates its shifting moods like a conductor before an orchestra. Other songs take a more pummeling approach that reflects the straightforward songwriting of Jackie Lynn. “Philo” is based on a single piano motif, played by avant garde multi-instrumentalist Ka Baird, while Fohr ascends from cryptic ghost story to full-on battle cry.
Recent years have seen an influx of artists pushing folk music toward more experimental territory, from William Tyler’s wordless, wayward Americana to House and Land’s trad-arr drones. Reaching for Indigo is another bold step in this direction, recalling at times Popol Vuh’s dark, luscious soundtrack work and the vigorous sweep of avant-folk guitarist Robbie Basho’s Visions of the Country. Even when Fohr steps away from the microphone—as she does through most of “A Story Of This World Part II”’s psychedelic storm—the world she crafts feels entirely based around the slow, heady cadence of her baritone. Shouting a few unintelligible lines near the end of the song, she suggests another outlet for her work that could eschew words altogether. “Create your own language,” she transcribes in the lyric sheet. On Reaching for Indigo, she’s started to do precisely that.
Pitchfork album review Oct 2017