I've mentioned Fovea Hex before, notably here. The casualness with which I've dropped the name has started to feel a little dishonest, though. Full disclosure, then: the music of Fovea Hex is just about all I listen to right now.
As I've explained previously, Fovea Hex is the current project of one Clodagh Simonds, who began her musical career as a teenager in the early 60s, singing traditional Irish folk songs. In the 70s she was a member of the acid folk group Mellow Candle, who were tipped for great things that never came to pass.
That could have been the end of the story but somehow Simonds has re-emerged in recent years under the guise of Fovea Hex, collaborating with a startling array of avant rock legends and industrial goth weirdos including Robert Fripp, Colin Potter, Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Andrew McKenzie and Carter Burwell!
The results of these collaborations have appeared over the past three years in a series of three short EPs. The music contained on said EPs is among the most ambitious and purely beautiful I've heard in recent times.
It would be easy - but foolish and wasteful - to dismiss Fovea Hex as a kind of goth version of Clannad. Certainly, the EPs present a highly decorative amalgam of Celtic folk music and synth-based ambiance. But Fovea Hex's music is far more stridently avant garde and emotionally turbulent than anything else that could be described as "new age folk".
Simonds' songwriting really does have the most extraordinary ebb-and-flow to it, with tracks regularly drifting past the ten-minute mark. In terms of her uncanny ability to stretch the atomic structure of songs into a gaseous flux, the only apt comparison is Noriko Tujiko. In terms of the sheer ambition and scope of her writing, the only apt comparison is Joanna Newsom.
I don't make these comparisons because I imagine Clodagh Simonds' songwriting is somehow particularly "feminine". It just so happens that, right now, the music scene's most ambitious and accomplished songwriters are all women.
The arrangement and production of Simonds' songs on the Fovea Hex EPs is as stunning as the songs themselves. Here the most apt comparison is Coil: inky-black tidal seascapes whose murky depths barely conceal a seething mass of life.
But Fovea Hex shouldn't be celebrated as a merely technical victory. These recordings pack a mighty emotional punch too. Much of this has to do with Simonds' remarkably powerful and versatile vocal delivery.
The lyrics help as well - creating a mood somewhere between erotic obsession and religious ecstasy, which is what comes from a Catholic upbringing, presumably. The incredible thing is the way Simonds can maintain an almost nauseating sense of spiritual peril before really cutting the listener loose by dropping some apparently mundane phrase. When she sings "take my call" on "Allure" or "everywhere I go I carry a photo" on "Huge", it's... shocking!
Hear for yourself. I've posted streaming versions of the aforementioned title tracks from the Allure and Huge EPs in the player below. Listen and listen good. Then go and buy buy buy them from the Janet Records website.