New Album of the Week: Colour Haze – She Said (Elektrohasch)

Over four years since All (2008) and two years since recording started, it’s hard to believe that She Said, the new album by stoner/heavy psych masters Colour Haze is here! It’s been a long, gnarly road for the band to get to its completion. Original plans was for a February 2011 release, until a January press release revealed that there were defects in the recordings and they would have to re-record most of the album. When I wrote the Colour Haze: Kings of Stoner/Psych Rock Mountain piece in March, I had high hopes the album would be out by summer! A September 2011 release date came and went, and Stefan Koglek’s update discussed issues with the mixing board, part of their newly built home studio. Sweet anticipation starts to become something else.At that point, us hardcore Colour Haze fans just had to take a breath and realize it’ll come when it comes. Meanwhile, as lot has happened in the heavy psych/stoner scene since 2008. After nine increasingly brilliant studio albums, the band’s influence became truly entrenched. While no one could really duplicate Colour Haze’s tones, you could hear their influence in Sungrazer, Causa Sui, The Machine, My Sleeping Karma, Hypnos 69, Arenna, and many more. They are all great bands that I listen to often, but Colour Haze remains by far my favorite because their music is so incredibly rich, despite normally sticking to a simple mix of guitar, bass, drums and occasional vocals. Every listening session feels like a journey, evoking geography such as deserts, mountains, oceans, whether imaginary or from experience and memory with all its inherent emotional triggers. Unlike some bullshit psychedelia that would sound empty without the enhancement of substances, Colour Haze’s music can plant the imagery in your brain using nothing but sound. To me, that’s truly psychedelic. And at their best, the songs have as much emotional impact as the melancholy music of Australian band The Dirty Three when they were at their peak in the mid-90s.

Some would say Colour Haze peaked with Los Sounds de Krauts (2003), a game-changing double album. She Said is also a double album, and makes a strong case that the band is still on top of their game, or are even better than ever. The beauty of most of their albums reflect some sort of evolution, even if it isn’t drastic, and offers a unique flavor each time. There will always people who are fans of particular albums (my favorite was All, and it will take more time to determine if She Said replaces that). I can’t imagine a fan not liking this album unless they haven’t liked anything by the band since 1999. While All dabbled with some subtle psychedelic production and even pop structures, the new one kicks off with the sprawling title track featuring piano playing by Christian Hawellek. Keyboards aren’t a completely new thing for Colour Haze, as Hawellek has contributed at least some Fender rhodes on all the albums since the self-titled Colour Haze (2005). However the string and horn arrangements are new. This is not to say that they’ve gone orchestral pop. Those elements, which also include some congas on the first track, are used sparingly but effectively, enhancing key moments on just a few tracks, like the horns making the crescendo on “Transformation” all that much more magnificent. At 18:48 and 16:53, “She Said” and “Transformation” are the band’s third and sixth longest songs in their entire catalog. You may have favorite songs where you wish the guitars would keep going a lot longer, like Television’s “Marquee Moon.” I used to be a pretty vocal opponent to jamming, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever been bored by any of Stefan Koglek’s guitar solos.

The second disc (or side 3 for the vinyl people) starts with the just absofuckingstunning “Breathe.” With backing vocal assistance from Mario Knapp, who like Christian Hawellek has done some film soundtrack work, it achieves a gorgeous cinematic majesty, transitioning from vocal harmonies into a strumming wall of sound, a departure from Koglek’s typical riffing to an effect more akin to Godspeed You Black Emperor. After six listens, it may be my favorite song on the album right now, but could change after another half dozen rounds. “Slowdown” is a fast, nearly punky four minute number that hearkens back to earlier records, with the vocals appropriately roughed up. “Stand In…” is another standout, starting with some gentle, chiming guitar tones and jazzy picking and escalates into blissfully fuzzed out stormclouds. I spent a good amount of time over the years listening to solo Tom Verlaine albums and his imitators searching for this kind of ecstatic guitar playing. I have no doubt many who discover Colour Haze for the first time with this album will be flabbergasted that they’ve been missing out the past 14 years. Better late than never. The band clearly thought the song was special enough to merit some strings during its second climax.

After the more typical sounding, but still satisfying “Rise,” the epic double album closes in brilliant fashion with “Grace.” Starting with some acoustic guitars and a gorgeous string arrangement, some psychedelic backwards guitars are layered in as the song begins to resemble a snaking moebius strip. Just after the seven minute mark it reaches the thermosphere where it gracefully floats amidst the auroras before descending down to the mesosphere and turns into a glowing meteor. Wow. I don’t usually feel it’s necessary to give a rundown on nearly every song, but on my last  listen on headphones, I just got lost in it and kept on writing. She Said certainly merits it, being not just the best album of the week, but very likely of the year.

For a completely independent band from Germany (the Elektrohasch label is Koglek’s one-man shop), word of mouth has spread remarkably well, even during Colour Haze’s long hiatus. It kills me that I’ll be missing out on their European XXL tour this fall where they’ll be playing three hour sets. I hope this brilliant album expands the band’s audience enough that they can at least come to the U.S. to play a festival next year along the lines of Roadburn in Tilburg, Holland or the Desertfest series in Berlin and London. She Said is available at Record Heaven and should be available soon in the U.S. through All That Is Heavy and Aquarius Records.

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