To Chicago-area avant-garde pop composer and performer Haley Fohr, -io is not just the name of her sixth LP, but an environment that occupies both time and space as any physical location would. The only difference between -io and, say, Logan Square, is that you won’t actually be able to find it on a map. Its geophagy is emotional. It’s longitude and latitude psychographic. It is not so much a place you travel to as one that you allow into yourself and accommodate within your own mind. It is a superliminal valley, characterized by daunting kettles and moraines, and a sky the color of burning potpourri. A kind of metalandscape that presses its way into your amygdala until it breaks through and subsumes your reality. It is a place where the world is forever ending, and therefore, also, always steeped in the potential to be made anew.
Haley’s work on -io can be traced back to the loss of a friend and residency in an idyllic part of Florida. She took her grief with her to the island resort, expecting that work and the indulgent atmosphere of her environment would help her process her feelings of grief and anger. It did not. Instead, she became fixated on the sky. An endless, open expanse that seemed to catch fire and recede into a pit of cinder each evening. It was at this time that she realized that there was no escaping her feelings and the hold that they had on her psyche. Only by embracing them could she find a way through. So she transformed her sorrow into a living place. One that she could walk through and explore, and eventually navigate her way back home through, hopefully obtaining peace of mind in the process. -io is the emotional and sonic chart delineating the contours of this vision quest.
Ever present on the album is Haley’s voice. An instrument of expression with an inimitable profile that she has cultivated since she was a teen. Both delicate and crushingly low and heavy, it moves through the interlacing orchestral arrangments and chthonic chamber pop like a newly born celestial form, one that has disembarked from the dirt its Earthen womb and which now traverses space generating its own field of gravity. Haley is best known for her minimalism but on -io the arrangements are as lush and densely foliated as any of the classic ferments that have supported the artistry of Scott Walker or Kate Bush. Haley’s decision to work with a 23-piece orchestra for this album was not in vain as it assists in expanding the boundaries of the territory with which she is searching for clarity and elevates for the listener a sense of taciturn geometry. You can almost feel the sand beneath your sandals and the smell of blossoming trees as Haley guides you through the groaning thickets of “Vanishing” or the intricate, marbled melodies of “Sculpting the Exodus.” At times, lost in its beauty, it feels possible to forget the suffering that brought you both here. But learning to live with that pain and exist at peace with it, will uncover for you the wisdom to discern a path back to the world of familiar forms.