Here Is Where We Used To Sing
Though Fovea Hex is hardly what could be called a dominating or ubiquitous presence on the contemporary music scene, the group made such a strong impression with its Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent EP trilogy that its identity as a functional creative force looms larger than it otherwise might. That Here Is Where We Used To Sing is, formally speaking, the group's debut full-length comes therefore as an even greater surprise. Fovea Hex, ostensibly leader Clodagh Simonds (vocals, keyboards, harmonium, psaltery, lyre, kalimba) joined by a core grouping of Laura Sheeran (vocals, saw), Cora Venus Lunny (violin, viola), Colin Potter (electronics), and Michael Begg (electronics, keyboards), has once again managed to draw into its orbit a stellar cast of contributors, including Brian Eno and Julia Kent (of Antony and the Johnsons), and has even managed to supplement the recording proper with a bonus half-hour EP (included with a 400-copy limited edition), Three Beams, featuring long-form renderings by Potter, Begg, and William Basinski. The album includes eleven examples of ethereal, spellbinding songcraft (eight vocal songs and three instrumentals) that meld, with inexplicable ease, ambient-electronic sound design and vocal-based balladry. Rooted in a foundation of voices and keyboards and liberally fleshed out with a wealth of complementary idiosyncratic sounds, Fovea Hex's songs are haunting lamentations and incantations, shimmering wonderlands of magic and mystery.
Essentially a Simonds solo spotlight, “Far From Here” opens the album in ravishing style, with her pure voice arcing over a sombre bed of shimmering chords. The song's portentous mood does nothing to dissuade the listener from sampling more of the album, however, as the effect is seductive in the extreme, and the delicate sound sculpting that Begg and Simonds bring to the setting promises much for the richness of what follows. Sheeran delivers a haunting vocal of her own in “Falling Things (Where Does A Girl Begin?)” with her lamentation deepened by an arrangment that includes a warbling saw, glass, bells, bowed cymbals, and “Clock of the Long Now Bells” courtesy of Eno. There's a crystal clear purity to both Sheeran's and Simonds' voices that sometimes calls the late Trish Keenan to mind, an association that lends Fovea Hex's music an even stronger gravitas. Particularly hypnotic is “A Hymn To Sulphur,” which features an undulating, Sirens-esque choir built from the voices of Simonds and Sheeran drifting over an oceanic ebb-and-flow of strings and guitar, with its collective sway anchored by a drum's distant pounding. Here and elsewhere, Fovea Hex's attention to sound detail and its impact is evident, as one almost misses the subliminal presence of a tremulous, high-pitched piano part that adds to the music's impact. Sumptuous violin and cello contributions lend “Play Another” a spectral character that complements the dreaminess of Simonds' vocal and elegant piano, a move revisited on the dramatic closer “Still Unseen.” Even when the songs are stripped to their core—“Jewelled Eyes” one example, which pairs Simonds' voice and Ellis's cello—they remain transfixing. A trio of instrumental vignettes (“Brisance, My Baby,” “Love For The Uncertain,” “Celandine”) break up the vocal pieces, each one a stirring instrumental setting where the sparse breath of piano is bedazzled with dulcimer, kalimbas, glass, bells, psaltery and crystal.
The EP casts the spotlight on the more ambient-electronic side of the Fovea Hex equation. As haunting an ambient soundscape as any of the vocal pieces on the parent disc, Begg's “Fall Calling” re-shapes the strings into elemental forces of nature, both starry-eyed glistenings of the upper spheres and earth-bound rumblings, while Basinski's “Glaze” just as hauntingly fashions its strings into incessant loops that pull one helplessly into their undertow in the process. Potter's “Cup of Joy” spends its first five minutes in a daze of string-based glory before the music abruptly shifts to a stunning choral episode of dark magic before returning to the strings once again, with the voices now piercing through the string-drenched clouds like agonized spirits desperately reaching out beyond the grave. Needless to say, the album holds up more than well enough on its own, but the EP's ambient settings make the Fovea Hex picture feel more complete. Theirs is an inspirational and ultra-rich universe that's pretty much unlike anything else currently on offer.