The fears of childhood have a unique staying power. A brief moment of news footage, the roar of a motorcycle, strangers at the door; anything slightly out of the ordinary has the potential to provoke lingering terror in a half-formed mind. As inconsequential as these images and incidents may ultimately be, they’re also the ones that stay with us the longest, emerging suddenly in adulthood as preferences and obsessions and fears, strange proclivities and recurring dreams. While the unsolved mysteries of youth confound and cripple some, half-recalled nursery terrors provide the seeds of inspiration in The Salt Garden I, the first release in Fovea Hex’s forthcoming trilogy.
Describing Fovea Hex in terms of genre has always been an exercise in futility, and The Salt Garden I is no exception. Despite having drawn comparisons to This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance, singer Clodagh Simonds has never been one to fall back on dramatic vocal embellishments; nor has the project ever been much for exotic instrumentation. In fact, the most compelling aspect of Fovea Hex’s music has always been its starkness: Simonds’ broad, unadorned voice and the project’s simple yet meticulously crafted compositions. The Salt Garden I’s initial track is exemplary of this signature style. Somber as a processional hymn, Simonds’ impassive intonations hint at nameless traumas, the soft haze of childhood interrupted by violence and the following struggle to piece together exactly what transpired. Despite its stoicism, the song is a masterpiece of subtle horror. “Were we away awhile / or was a reel unraveling?,” Simonds asks her far-flung siblings over the thrum of the harmonium.
It’s the sort of thing that might be easily missed in this extrinsically lovely album. Always restrained and quietly beautiful, it’s also shot through with a vein of menace, an indescribable fear, or a barely restrained desire for an unobtainable absolute—action poised, coiled behind delicate strings and subtly processed vocals. “The Undone Mother” is measured and reverent, with the kind of ethereal vocals you could fall asleep to as long as you ignore the ominous percussion and forget that, “long before the loud days came / all along / you were there / one immense calm eye / one engine of lightning.” Every note and every line smolders with a sort of wanting that’s impossible to define. “Solace,” the album’s final, instrumental track, enlists the talents of violinist Justin Grounds, and its initial soothing ambience gives way to great swells of possibility—an open-ended finale that leaves a lingering sensation of awe.
The Salt Garden I is a box of delicate mysteries with no resolutions, and it’s all the better for it. As brief as it is beautiful, it leaves the listener simultaneously reeling with the emotions it draws forth, and awaiting further installments to come.
A1) The Golden Sun Rises Upon the World Again
A2) No Bright Avenue
B1) The Undone Mother
Written by: Rebecca C. Brooks
Janet Records (Ireland) / 880918223575 / 10″, CD, Digital
Die Stadt (Germany) / DS116 / 10″, CD
Headphone Dust (United Kingdom) / HDFH1021 / 10″, CD
Folk / Drone / Ambient / Experimental