Usually, with our ‘Doctor’s Orders’ series, we ask the artists who take part to name the nine albums that are their “favourite”. The idea is that, when faced with a difficult situation or a dark time in life, these albums provide comfort and warmth when you need them the most. The more you love an album, the thought goes, the more likely it will be to hold you together as you are weathering a storm.
Continuing with our Mental Health Awareness campaign, Far Out Magazine has teamed up with the suicide prevention charity CALM to help connect you with your favourite artists. The series attempts to hear how music has helped them during their darker times and day-to-day lives and, in turn, how it can help others.
The organisation, with the full working title of ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’, offer a free, confidential and anonymous helpline for those most in need of mental health support. Now lockdown measures have eased, that doesn’t mean that impact of the last 18 months has ended, and CALM still needs as much help as possible to carry on with its excellent work.
We at Far Out believe in music’s ability to heal. It could be the moment that the needle drops on your favourite song and provides respite from a chaotic world, or, conversely, it might be the fanatic conversation you have with friends about which guitarist was the greatest. Music, it’s safe to say, has always allowed us to connect with one another and ourselves.
In support of CALM, we’re asking a selection of our favourite people to share nine records that they would prescribe for anyone they met and the stories behind their importance. Doctor’s Orders sees some of our favourite musicians, actors, authors, comedians and more offer up the most important records, which they deem essential for living well.
Back to Fohr, though, as with everything that she does, Circuit des Yeux’s Haley Fohr interpreted her own list in a different way. “Admittedly, it is hard for me to truly say that these nine albums are my ‘favourite’,” Fohr acknowledges, “But they are important and foundational in the way I approach, hear, and make music today.
“It will come as no surprise that the records that mean the most to me are usually paired with a biographical situation that has embedded its imprint on me,” Fohr continues. “I’ve decided to list my album picks chronologically in the order in which I discovered them. This might sound like a heavy introduction to a sad story, but I promise you it isn’t.”
For well over a decade, Fohr has been combining experimental electronic-based music with cerebral art. Her deep contralto voice brings shades of goth into her work, but it’s always balanced out with waves of synths or lilting melodies. There is always beauty to be found, whether it’s in pizzicato string plucks or warm acoustic guitar strums. A master of contrast, Fohr is equally adept at plumbing the depths of darkness as she is soaring to uplifting heights.
Fohr recently released her latest LP, -io, a trippy mix of ambient, electronica, and experimental noises that makes for an alternately mediative and combative listening experience. However dense or open the tracks are, Fohr never sounds overwhelmed by the sheer power of her work. Instead, she’s the conductor, letting all the current flow through her and directing it towards the audience.
Despite these records not necessarily being her favourite, it becomes clear how much they mean to her when she begins to describe them. She’s self-aware and funny, never letting an overly serious attitude creep into her language. She’s deliberate without being pedantic, and her choices form a much clearer picture of who the difficult to pin down artist truly is. Here is her eclectic list of albums that turned Fohr into Circuit des Yeux.
Nine albums recommended by Fohr:
Bee Gees – Main Course
The Bee Gees first real step into the style that they would soon become world famous for was on 1975’s Main Course, which featured the indelibly disco-indebted ‘Jive Talkin’ as its lead single. The album also proved to be instrumental in shepherding a young Fohr towards musical expression.
“This was the first album I ever purchased,” Fohr explains. “I was maybe eight years old, and the only previous album I had owned was titled Haley, in which each song was about a day in the life of Haley. I guess you could say the Bee Gees saved me from narcissism.”
“I would take my Playschool Walkman and listen to Main Course for hours a day, strolling down the block, wiggling my little hips side to side and feeling totally independent. I still love the Bee Gees. Their catalogue is unbeatable. They somehow managed to execute flawless production and vocal work while maintaining depth. There is sorrow and sadness in their earlier work – a kind of humanity that is hard for me to find in The Beatles or The Beach Boys. I own every record by the Bee Gees.”
Albert Ayler – Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962–70)
It wouldn’t take long for Fohr to gravitate beyond the more conventional sounds of pop music and find refuge in the avant-garde. Saxophonist Albert Ayler proved to be a conduit for which Fohr was able to find her own unique voice, which she discovered at a time when she needed it most.
“This record came to me during a dark period of my teenage years. I was feeling utterly trapped, lost, worthless, and confused,” Fohr explained. “I received this album box set for Christmas and was completely enamoured by the kinetic entropy to Ayler’s playing. Everything he played felt like a forward motion, a real progress. At the time I had never heard anything like it.”
“The box set came with so many nice things and was tailored in a way that seemed unimaginable to me at the time. The care and love put into the trappings of this box set affected me as much as the music. It said to me that you can create microworlds and take care of them. I don’t know why, but around this time, age 17, I started to sing along with Holy Ghost almost every time I listened to it. It is the only album I ever tried to ‘play along with’, and I attribute it as the gateway into my extended-vocal technique.”
Sonic Youth – Confusion is Sex
As Fohr began establishing her own identity, she found an important figure who helped set the template for her own style: Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. The way she stumbled upon the New York noise punks came from an otherwise negative incident.
“I once bought a birthday cake for a boyfriend and brought it to a party. It was a Danish pastry that my grandmother helped me pick out,” Fohr said. “I arrived at my boyfriend’s party with pastry in hand. Within moments he smeared it against a wall and retreated to the basement to play music with his friends. I was pissed. Someone offered me weed and I smoked for the first time. I remember sitting in a very large recliner, stoned, when this album came on. Kim Gordon’s voice felt like a fucking godly message to me.”
Fohr continued: “Her voice was deep like mine, and I had never heard another woman sound similar in range. That was important for me. The album itself is incredible. The mix of live tracks (‘Now I Wanna Be Your Dog’) and studio takes to create a huge range of emotions and fidelity that encapsulate the wild earnestness of life. There is melody, there is feedback, and there is propulsive rhythm. It reminds me of The Stooges, but more sophisticated and hidden with clues.”
This Heat – Deceit
As punk rock rose in stature during the mid-1970s in London, bands were stripping away all elements of art that might have been labelled as “pretentious”. But the true dissidents knew that “punk” was about defying convention: that could include chants, electronics, or angular rhythms if need be. Nobody subverted convention like This Heat, and it’s not hard to hear how the iconoclastic band would have had a profound influence on Fohr’s own music.
“This record has no contemporaries. The use of the cut-up method via analogue tape, and multiple vocal overlays of melody and timeless lyrics read like some Gregorian chant from the future,” Fohr said. “If Faust would have stopped and focused a little more, or if Talking Heads would have been into psilocybin, that is where you might find Deceit.”
Adding: “I had the pleasure of seeing This Is Not This Heat live four times in 2018. It was absolutely incredible how relevant their message was, and how powerful their performance remained. Charles Hayward is a legend, and their use of double percussion propulses these extremely heavy and mystical messages into catharsis.”
Mariah – Utakata No Hibi
Never afraid to go into the deeper recesses of the unknown, Fohr points to Utakata No Hibi, a largely unknown album from Japanese band Mariah, as being a window into marrying the more opaque world of the avant-garde with recognisable pop instrumentation. Truly a listening experience like no other, Utakata No Hibi is akin to stepping into a previously undiscovered world.
“This is an album from 1983 that is absolutely uplifting and mind-bending,” Fohr commented. “The ingenuity of the choice in the arrangement will flip your lid. The production reminds me of the epicness of Kate Bush’s albums without the narrative arc. I love the synthetic work mixed with the strange use of vocals to create a very melodic and danceable epic. It doesn’t matter who I show this record to, they always love it. I recommend it for parties and DJ sets.”
Robert Wyatt – Shleep
For anyone slightly befuddled by the mix of electronica, orchestral music, folk, and punk that Circuit des Yeux has perfected, the best way to clear things up is to look at what directly proceeded her. Indeed, the connection between Fohr and progressive pop troubadour Robert Wyatt is one that connects deep.
“Robert Wyatt is my godmother,” Fohr said. “I don’t know how else to explain it. I love his frankness, and his incredibly unique choice of instrumentation. I like how he can sound bubbly and friendly, but be singing about someone getting stabbed in the back by a lover, or dying in poverty by the government’s hands.”
Adding: “His vocal timbre is just friendly, and so dry and small, that he is able to layer it in ways that remind me of Phil Collins on drums. Layered, filling up the space, minus the reverb. Shleep is complicated music, but feel simple. It works with all types of weather, and won’t leave you feeling down even if you might not be exactly shining.”
Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden
If one thing becomes clear about Fohr’s list, it’s that she appreciates an artist that can have one foot in the conventional and another in the completely out-there sensibilities of experimental music. That’s where artists like Sonic Youth and Robert Wyatt live, and it’s the same sonic space that is occupied by the masters of the form, former synth poppers turned wonky art-rockers Talk Talk.
“This is my most listened to album of the last five years,” Fohr explained. “This album helps me traverse grief in a way other albums do not. The way feedback grows and dies, and silence lingers between the soft vocal incantations of Mark Hollis feels like the wet mossy incubator of my grief. It is an open chasm that invites the listener to their most private life.”
Continuing, Fohr explained: “I recently read the memoir of Phill Brown, who recorded and produced this record. The almost insane devotion he made to pulling this record together, and the hours of overdubbing is a story that inspires me. Nothing about this album sounds laboured despite the heavy backstory of pulling it all together. It feels like humans coming together and making a huge sacrifice of their time and life. I am so grateful that this sonic space exists.”
Pandit Pran Nath – The Voice of Cosmic India
To fully understand Fohr, it becomes necessary to dig out your passport and visit the eclectic sound of foreign territories. Pandit Pran Nath was a renowned classical Indian singer who incorporated elements of jazz and minimalism as he found his permanent home in the United States. The clash of culture and style never felt out of place in his music: it was the dichotomy that informed much of its singular excitement.
“This record helped me through the beginnings of the pandemic,” Fohr said. “It is a live recording of a Pandit Pran Nath performance. I do the dishes to this record, or stretch, or just stare at a wall. There is nothing more fleshy than Pandit Pran Nath singing for 60 minutes straight.
“I love the way the vowels shift over minutes, and the utterance he chooses resonates – it starts wide and becomes small, and then gets large once again. It has a physicality that does not impress or fester, it just absorbs into your body and helps you along your way. It is an equivalent to a gong bath, and I suggest everyone try it in the morning with a cup of tea.”
Olivier Messiaen – L’ascension
Classical music was always a foundation of Fohr’s unique style, and she cites composer Olivier Messiaen as a significant figure in being able to translate emotion and experience without traditional forms of communication like words. As she also comically admits, it can get a little heavy if brought out in a public setting: it’s not a good time record, let’s put it that way.
Detailing the selection, Fohr said: “You will hear Messiaen in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. You’ll probably recognise his piece from ‘A Quartet for the End of Time’, which was written and performed inside of a concentration camp. L’ascension is another side to the absolutely devastating effect of Olivier’s compositions.”
Adding: “This organ piece breaks wall after wall. It just crawls out and up for 26 minutes, cloistered and resolving along the way. Messiaen’s chordal structures and movements are complicated, much like life at times. If you ever find yourself trying to wrap up a party, or get a guest to go home, put this album on and it will surely kill the mood.”