Graham Reid | | 1 min read
If we were brutally honest we'd say that most albums don't break new ground. They simply conform to genre tropes, be they in alt.country, hard rock, trip-hop, r'n'b or whatever.
Artists seldom step beyond the genre or style they are identified with – so few you can almost list them: Bowie, Bjork, for a while U2, Radiohead, Kate Bush etc – and it is an even more rare album which makes you say, “What the hell is that?”
In a good way.
Elsewhere has come across quite a few such album – many from world music artists or those like Bjork, Tagaq, Laurie Anderson et al who err more towards experimental or art music.
So it was real pleasure to discover by accident a piece by Circuit Des Yeux which elicited the “What the hell” response.
It was on an Uncut cover-mount CD late last year (frankly I never play them but this was in the car on a bad day for radio) and right from the opening bars it stopped me dead.
In fact, no lie, I actually pulled over and sat and listened as this piece unfurled through various aspects.
The piece was Paper Bag and it opens with layered and repeated phrase (synth and voice) which vaguely recalled early Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Laraaji but a pulsing beat and guitar chords come in around the two minute mark and then a voice sings “Stick your head into a paper bag and see just what you find . . .”
But it is that voice: a bit like the quivering emotional style of Anthony/Anohni or that guy who fronted Pavlov's Dog for a while way back . . . but dropped a couple of octaves, in places a shuddering baritone. The beat is relentless but not overpowering, suddenly space emerges and the track breathes with chiming guitars and the guy's voice has gone. Then it tumbles to a close and the Riley-like minimalism returns in the mid-ground..
The next surprise when trying to find more about Circuit Des Yeux is to learn the “guy” is an American woman Haley Fohr and this is her fifth album under that nom-de-disque.
Apparently this remarkable outing – on Spotify, I bought it immediately off iTunes – follows her taking a break from the Circuit project and recording a country album entitled Jackie Lynn under her own name.
There are some residual elements of country music here (the acoustic opening passages of Black Fly) but even they get bent into new shapes and that voice is a pliable, commanding yet sometimes emotionally fragile, thing.
And that is all we are going to tell you, because it is one to discover.
Let's just tick off some names from international reviews to show you how diverse this is, and how writer grope for reference points: Names mentioned include Popul Vuh, Jacques Brel/Nina Simone, the first Roxy Music album, Diamanda Galas, Crazy Horse-meets-Velvet Underground, Scott Walker . . .
And it comes with an interesting backstory which you can also discover by checking around.
“What the hell . . .”