Published May 19, 2015The past year has been a time of change for Chicago musician Haley Fohr. Touring solo as Circuit Des Yeux throughout Europe and the U.S. in support of her acclaimed 2013 album Overdue, she developed an overwhelming sense of anxiety toward disquiet during her live performances, causing her to rethink the way she makes music. Upon her return home, she began searching for a new way to reach her audience, wound up relocating to a collective living space and joined up with some of the city's top progressive players. "There's something deep inside of you worth reaching into," Fohr sings on "Do the Dishes," a message to other women to take risks. "It makes me tremble, it makes me shake, it's a risk I'm willing to take."
That risk pays off. While Fohr's previous albums have all been relatively sparse solo affairs, In Plain Speech, her fifth, is an expansive work that features rich instrumental sections and avant studio experimentation. Each of the nine compositions centre on Fohr's cavernous baritone howl — reminiscent of free-jazz vocalist Patty Waters as well as Weyes Blood — and explore different ideas of self discovery and opening one's self up to the world. Even though she's stripped away the literal sense of isolation, it remains, along with companionship and transformation, a prevalent theme throughout the album. On "Late In The Afternoon" she sings, "When the seas are changing and the mountains are breaking I'll sing a song for you, and your company, too. Rise from the rumble. Wake up. It's never too late. I sing from the plains, my song echoes, it reigns for you." In Plain Speech maintains the dark vibe that permeates the Circuit Des Yeux catalogue, but with the added company and sense of overcoming, it also lets in a bit more light. It's Fohr's most direct and best album yet.
The best tracks on In Plain Speech achieve transcendence, making use of the full band's range of instrumentation as well as Fohr's vocal intensity. For all her darkness, Fohr actually sounds somewhat hopeful this time around, and for good reason. On the album closer she sings, "Small crack in the wall, the dogs dance all around you. They dance for a dream, yeah they dance for the scene that you've been sleeping through." Or on "Fantasize the Scene," she sings "Now that I've arrived, the door is open wide." Like the title suggests, Fohr is frank about what she's getting at. And like any struggle one manages to confront, she seems better for it in the long run. (Thrill Jockey)