Personnel: Haley Fohr (acoustic 12-string guitar, electric guitar, piano, bass synthesizer).
Audio Mixer: Cooper Crain.
Recording information: Flat Black Studios, Iowa City, IA; Min Minbal Studios, Chicago, IL; USA Studios, Chicago, IL.
Photographer: Julia Dratel.
Haley Fohr's experimental folk project Circuit des Yeux has shown a remarkable amount of progress since its debut in 2008. Her earliest releases were noisy and nightmarish, with her bewitching vocals barely peeking out of the poorly recorded atonal din. Her albums, beginning with 2011's Portrait, have brought her songwriting skills to the fore, showcasing her deep, stunning voice and disturbing lyrics, as well as her increased proficiency as a guitar player. While Circuit des Yeux has always been a solo project, with Fohr writing and recording most of the material and performing concerts by herself, 2013 full-length Overdue featured extensive collaborations with other musicians, particularly Cooper Crain of Cave and Bitchin Bajas, and was easily the most accomplished CdY recording to date. In Plain Speech, Circuit des Yeux's 2015 Thrill Jockey debut, is yet another bold step forward, featuring lush orchestration and challenging arrangements. "Do the Dishes" balances Philip Glass-like minimalism with subtle, suspenseful electronic textures, but provides plenty of space for Fohr's chilling baritone voice, recalling doomy chanteuses from Nico to Jarboe, to resonate clearly. Eight-minute epic "Dream of TV" opens with delicately plucked and bowed strings as well as woodwinds and chimes, only to be overtaken by tape-damaged guitar feedback and dark, swirling layers of flutes before steadily pounding drums and Fohr's haunting, wordless vocals join in during the song's crescendo. "Fantasize the Scene" recalls Swans' late-'80s acoustic period, and "A Story of This World" is another extended epic, with gorgeous string and flute arrangements and startling vocals. Album-closer "In the Late Afternoon" tiptoes in softly, switching up midway to a shifting drum track playing an inventive yet comfortable rhythm. Fohr's lyrics, as direct as the album's title suggests, are more uplifting and empowering than previous albums, which often resembled torch songs and murder ballads; "Do the Dishes" offers the encouraging statement "there is something deep inside of you, something that's worth reaching into," and "In the Late Afternoon" reassures that "it's never too late." In Plain Speech is an exciting, powerful album, and a major advancement for an artist whose vision is too grand to remain confined to lower production values. ~ Paul Simpson