Pitchfork MARCH 24, 2006 - by Matthew Murphy


In the early 1970s, Irish singer/songwriter Clodagh Simonds was a founding member of the progressive-folk cult favorites Mellow Candle, and later went on to perform with Thin Lizzy and Mike Oldham. As with many of her folk-rock contemporaries, Simonds has been long absent from the recording scene but has seen a recent surge of interest in her earlier work, as exemplified by Stephen Malkmus' 2003 cover of Mellow Candle's Poet & the Witch.

Intriguing though it's been, however, there's nothing in Simonds' past history that could've adequately foretold the remarkable appearance of her new project, Fovea Hex. Featuring contributions from such heavyweights as Brian and Roger Eno, the Hafler Trio's Andrew McKenzie, and film composer Carter Burwell, Fovea Hex represents a startling confluence of talents and styles, and the group's first release is uniquely possessed of an icy, sapphire-like radiance. This three-song EP is the first installment of a proposed trilogy entitled Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent and brief though it is, the record exhibits a sterling assortment of ambient, high-density drones, all of which are subtly bound by Simonds' songcraft and crystalline, folk-derived vocals.

Assembled and mixed by McKenzie via a ghostly construction of harmonium, viola, zither, and "disappeared piano," the deceptively active arrangements achieve a frosty mood somewhere relative to Nico's The Marble Index, Current 93's apocalyptic folk-drones, and the unflinching winterscapes Burwell's Fargo soundtrack. But despite Fovea Hex's assembled instrumental firepower, Simonds unquestionably emerges as the central figure on these performances - particularly on the near-a-cappella opening track Don't These Windows Open. Conducted by McKenzie's invisible hand, here Simonds' multi-tracked chorale is as gracefully split and clarified as sunlight mirrored off the polar icecaps.

Yet though all appears tranquil on the surface, on Bloom there are unseen forces at constant work to undercut Simonds' lyrics with ripples of doubt and anxiety. "Cry for your father / Don't these windows open? / How could he hear us?" she fervently sings on this first track, sounding determined not to lose her cool in a crisis. Later on, amid the gorgeous dunes of We Sleep You Bloom, she again conjures indistinct external spirits, "Way down beneath the battlefield / Down there beside the fire... as we sleep you bloom," leaving ambiguous the nature of these unnamed forces that "bloom in a petrol rainbow dark." And throughout these performances, Simonds tempers her passions with an elegant measure of stoic restraint, aided by the exceptional vocal harmonies of Brian Eno, Laura Sheeran, and Lydia Sasse.

So potent, in fact, are Fovea Hex's joint creations that the album's brevity becomes its primary drawback. Simonds has a voice that one could happily drown in for hours, and obviously guys like McKenzie, Burwell, and the Enos would benefit from further opportunity to stretch their collaborative limits. So it's good news to learn that the next chapter in theNeither Speak Nor Remain Silent series is due later this spring, and a minor impatience to anticipate the day when the entire work is available to be absorbed as a whole.