Agitated Atmosphere: Circuit des Yeux – Portrait

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Circuit Des Yeux.

Haley Fohr soaks in dirty water, washing away the sins of her day in a porcelain tub. The stark cover imagery of Portrait mimics the dark and dank material of Fohr’s alter ego, Circuit des Yeux. Whether she’s the victim of endless tribulations or an astute student of ethnomusicology, the emotion poured into Portrait (as it has been with her previous two albums) is palatable; relatable; real.

Portrait does peel away the lo-fi layers of Fohr’s past as her studies in recording prove well sought. Fohr’s gritty maturity for a 21-year old not only reverberates in her frank recollections of heartbreak and social isolation but in how those ideas can be echoed through the setting and space of her recordings. This is best executed with the oblong “Crying Chair,” a slight departure from Fohr’s woman-and-guitar immediacy. The song is just as organic as Fohr’s more concrete melodies, but the spatial shift into electronic tinkering — the pulse beating in rhythm to the dull metallic chime — lends an already sullen melody an even deeper weight.

Listen to “Twenty & Dry”:

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Much of the ebon mood of Portrait is supplied by Fohr’s ominous vocals, channeling the soulful range of Marianne Faithful at their most fierce. “Twenty & Dry” is largely built around Fohr’s low elegance; her vocals vibrating with intensity. “Falling Out” is operatic in tone; Fohr stretching her vocal chords thin to wail with the power of a beautiful banshee. But it’s Portrait’s finale that best defines the work of Circuit des Yeux: “101 Ways to Kill a Man” a classic road song about the crumbling American dream interspersed with sad love letters; “I’m on Fire” a broken but lusty reinterpretation of the underrated Bruce Springsteen ballad.

The investment De Stijl continues to make in Haley Fohr is well rewarded with Portrait. Now it’s time for John Q. Public to pick up on her talent and watch as the Circuit des Yeux brand blossoms.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist whose work can be viewed at his website. He also pens Deserted for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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