Released in 2017 on Drag City Records
“The world wants an oath but all you can say is: ‘I promise to take up space. I can only promise to take up space”
In a society that places such high expectations on individuals to shrink themselves in order to fit into the predominating social structures, it’s a powerful moment when one realizes their birthright to claim the space necessary to be their fullest selves. For Haley Fohr this space is on stage, a “vessel of freedom” where she feels empowered and like “nobody can fuck with” her. This power can definitely be felt by the audience; her performance at Pitchfork festival in 2018 was one of the most arresting performances I’ve seen in years. She began with both hands raised during the opening organ drones of “Brainshift” like it was some brooding worship service. I couldn’t help but lift my open hands and immediately felt the weight of the spirit descend upon and envelop me. Her deep, haunting voice resonated through my chest.
“Brainshift, came like a tidal wave”
These opening lines allude to a transcendent moment of realization that would not only inspire this entire album, but forever change the way Fohr perceives herself and the world around her. In an interview, Fohr recalls the night:
“something really dark came down upon me and this new step happened in the process where things got so dark they combusted into this bright white light and I had this knowingness wash over me. I found this answer that I didn’t know I’d been searching for until I found it. […] It was both an internal and a physical thing. It was mostly internal but I was going through something spiritual. I was convulsing and vomiting and crying, it was really intense, it came out of nowhere, it was like somebody did this to me. It was really frightening.”
It seems this experience involved losing conception of time (“Your mind’s playing all these time tricks/ while a machine on display tells you what time it is”) and forgetting who you are “or your reason for being” for a few seconds. This momentary ego-death is liberating–creating a mental blank slate, taking you to a time before your name and societal constructs were programmed into your mind. It allows you to recreate and re-cognize who you are, so it’s no wonder this moment felt like such a rebirth, described in “Philo” as “the great alignment, the redefinement”.
Musically this album feels like a continuation of the intense, improvisatory sound Tim Buckley (another agile and passionate vocalist with a four octave range) started exploring with Lorca and Starsailor. Fohr’s “Black Fly” even appears as an allusion to Buckley’s “Buzzin Fly”, with the way they are both infused with a sense of newfound freedom. After the downtrodden organs and funereal trombone arrangements of “Brainshift”, the second track’s light acoustic guitars, airy tremolo-picked mandolin and lush string arrangements feel weightless, stripped of a burden once believed necessary. “Nobody said it was easy, but it was so easy”. After a long period of upward flight, the airborne narrator looks down to see “all the little people in their little lines looking down”. Buzzing synths swarm as the song begins a “high dive” descent into a heavy groove from upright bassist Josh Abrams and Tyler Damon’s propulsive drumming.
“Philo” begins with a woozy, fluttering piano ostinato played by Ka Baird of Spires that in the Sunset Rise. Deep strings and piano slowly bloom from underneath while Fohr reflects on the previous track’s flight, “looking back on the day you came to life”. Tensions build as the hurried pulse of tom drums underly Fohr’s call to “surrender, surrender, surrender”, before eventually cutting to silence. A short coda consisting of a cacophony of squeaking strings, deep drones, and ritualistic howling from Fohr puts a cathartic exclamation point on the end of side A.
Shimmering synth sequencers from multi-instrumentalist Cooper Crain open the B-side, reminiscent of the textures he uses in his transcendent-drone trio Bitchin Bajas. Panned vocalizations from Fohr join the atmosphere, setting a staccato pulse that kicks into motorik drums and driving acoustic guitar that build through an energetic verse until dissipating into an explosion of drums and sinking back into the cloud of synths.
The fuzzy marching repetition of “A Story of this World Part II” recall My Bloody Valentine or Velvet Underground at their heaviest and most insistent, with a hallucinogenic stroke of wordless vocals coming from Fohr. After the short drone of “Call Sign E8”, we get the tribal percussion and aquatic guitar with “Geyser”, the lyrics recalling the morning after the great realization, “the day I started to see anew”.
Closing track, “Falling Blonde”, takes the album full circle, with floating organs and funereal vocals similar to the opener, only this time the atmosphere feels ascended to a higher plateau, lifted by the lush swell of strings. Fohr seems to be singing to her past self with lines like “every light is turning green for you” and “you walked your path with no denial that you were stepping out”. As standalone lines these may sound encouraging, yet in the context of this hazy memory they allude to this “falling blonde” walking into the street, only to find themselves upside down and worrying onlookers (referring to Fohr’s cathartic experience?). Symbolically, this scene suggests walking on the path the laid out before you, with the world watching as you occasionally stumble to move forward, only to find yourself upside down and at odds with these expectations. “Everyone feels the dream for you”, but you envision another way.