Lafayette, Indiana native Haley Fohr possesses a gift—either that or she’s wholly possessed by a spirit derived from extra-terrestrial origin. Then again the music/cacophony she makes as Circuit des Yeux is borne from the most natural, organic and downright homely elements one could use in the exigency of lo-fi, bedroom-conceived art, namely the earth’s percussive qualities and her god-given, god-forsaken voice. Perhaps it’s this static crawl between polar opposites that has made her so polarizing in the first place. Many who heard Symphone, her debut LP, could barely choke it down. The fidelity was such an extreme obscurant that any semblance of songcraft or ingenuity was masked by a histrionic shitstorm (that’s shorthand for tape hiss). Likewise, there were many who considered the album quite stark and stunning, a masterpiece of outsider avant-operatics and twisted femme-folk. It’s definitely built for late-night isolated listening sessions, fueled with depressants and black candle wax, best heard in dark wilderness or obsidian caverns or a place where the environment can only add to the primordial fractures and fissures that reveal the purest of emotions. I’m still unsure where I stand. It’s not a record you throw on for kicks. For secrets and intimate confessionals, yes, but I’m not about to give up the details of “der alptraum.”
Sirenum, her second full-length for De Stijl, arrives at a perfect time then. While not a summer record by any stretch (more suited for nuclear winter) now’s the moment when Fohr can stake her own identity, if she hasn’t already. To say nothing of maturity or growing up, here the mythos of Circuit des Yeux have been solidified into a phantasmagoria that splits the spectrum between Zola Jesus’ classically trained horror-psych and Scout Niblett’s unlearned, hyper-grounded, mope-core. More often than not, though, Fohr’s range on Sirenum scatters outside those parameters, meeting extremes face-to-face, giving way to softer hues found on the blissful but wicked folk of “Serenade to Sophia” or the unnerving dissonance found in the tribal, floor tom–led “Calling Song.” Going out of her discomfort zone, the songs explore an uncharted terrain displaying a stylistic leap. Be it the deep blues/dead eyes on stand-out “Paranoid,” the backmasked hysteria in “Shedevil,” or the wisps of acoustic finger-picking on “Swallowing Hearts,” the record becomes a healing seance, as opposed to the self-mutilating, almost novice purge of Symphone.
While Fohr’ somnambulist songwriting has been enhanced, even more embellished is her sonic touch, giving flesh to the skeletons through multiple layers of monochromatic spooks and recorded accidents. The textures that hide in the background give the sense of crackling campfires, plagues of locusts, zombie invasions, occupants of inter-planetary craft, and ghost hands having tantrums over antique piano keys, all of which further widen the scope emanating from the miserable yet beautiful core of her music. And that central murmur is rooted in her voice, something that blossoms best on the recently released “Fruition” 7-inch for Dull Knife. The title track begins with a sea of sirens (coincidentally Sirenum is a region of Mars known as the sea of sirens), her spectral howls and celestial half-life arias rise to a hypnotic swirl of mysterious tones. If there’s a message, I wouldn’t know. If there’s an incantation at work, all the better. Soon, though, it leads to the first time Fohr’s actually sounded upbeat. The second half of the track finds a hole in the rough-hewn fabric weaved so far and through it spills broken-beats and (gasp!) a catchy refrain. Anyone looking to experience both sides of Circuit des Yeux without having to get wrapped in the pall of Sirenum should steer towards this two-song distillation of her temperament. While “Fruition… PoP Marvellous” might be her first jukebox worthy A-side, the B-side here puts her back in line with the haunted loner vibe to which she’s accustomed, though it’s a fairly magnetic pull into the queue. She sounds confident in her identity on “Indian Orphan,” it wouldn’t be off to place her among the guys like Kevin Failure (of Pink Reason), who sweat these sickly sour laments. On par, both records are limited and essential, as is the Circuit des Yeux live show and the bludgeoning force of Cro-Magnon, the band she shares with Bird. Even as that group becomes more rockist in form, it’s hard to imagine Fohr ever abandoning the infinitely eerie pit she’s established alone.