Haley Fohr walking outside in the wind wearing an outfit colored in orange tie dye
Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux Credit: Evan Jenkins

Chicago vocalist, guitarist, and composer Haley Fohr is such a creative force that she can’t be contained by one persona—in addition to performing as Circuit des Yeux, she uses the alter ego Jackie Lynn to tell musical tales from the points of view of characters that feel personal yet slightly removed. Fohr began her new album, -io (Matador), her first full-length as Circuit des Yeux since 2017, in winter 2020. Devastated by the loss of a friend to suicide and a grandmother to Parkinson’s, she spent time at an artist’s retreat at the Robert Rauschenberg estate on Florida’s Captiva Island, where she immersed herself in a form of isolation that included a great deal of natural splendor. Is that enough of a balm for trauma and grief? Of course not. But within it, Fohr had time and energy to explore those emotions past their breaking point and beyond, and gradually found her way back into writing music as the country spiraled into pandemic lockdown. On –io, recorded at Electrical Audio with Cooper Crain, Fohr realizes her ambitious arrangements by enlisting 24 classical musicians to build a lush, lavish sonic space that’s huge enough to match her vocal presence, which is so immense it could overwhelm a more brittle setting. The songwriting on -io gives free rein to every impulse, including hissing whispers and celestial affirmations. Emerging from a short instrumental intro, “Vanishing” leaps out of the gate like a predator being released back into the wild. The cosmic folk rock of “Neutron Star” develops a rushing, melancholy bite as it journeys across Fohr’s personal universe, which feels both small and vast. Here, the difficulty of fitting her into a single, fixed genre presents itself in microcosm: she makes just one six-minute song feel like a full suite. That her work is so polished while allowing so much room for raw emotion—on “Stranger,” above a bee buzz of cello, she unleashes elegiac wails that recall Diamanda Galas—testifies to the scope of her vision. It’s absolutely absorbing. Fohr has given several remarkable virtual performances in the past year or so, including a sad-song cover show at Constellation for Halloween 2020 and an NPR Tiny Desk concert last month, but for this date at Thalia Hall, Fohr will treat fans to the full experience with a 16-strong orchestra.

Circuit des Yeux Sun 11/21, 8:30 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $18, 17+