I love Colour Haze and you should too. Here come about eight or nine hundred words of gushing hyperbole forming a vain attempt to get you to care about this band even a fraction as much as I do.
She Said has been a long time coming. Most Colour Haze records pop up on a cycle little longer than a year or two, but this one has been in the oven for about four years. Hitting ‘play’ for the first time, with shaking hands, I had worries. What if the problems causing such a protracted gestation had somehow spoiled the album? But even worse; what if my own ridiculous, unjustifiably fannish devotion to Stefan Koglek’s trio of Munich hippies meant She Said couldn’t possibly hope to satisfy me? What would I do then?
Of course, like everything in life, it wasn’t worth worrying about, because (SPOILERS) She Said is fucking brilliant.
For the uninitiated, Colour Haze have been producing a sticky and potent strain of bass-rich Kyuss-infused stoner rock since the mid-1990s. In 1999, the line-up suddenly gelled, and the records suddenly began to find their own dimension beyond the simple heavy-hitting dictates of ‘stoner rock’. A steady trickle of releases through the 2000s developed the band’s sound into something really special, while their songcraft and ambition evolved to the point it now becomes apparent an entire kitchen sink’s worth of ideas have been chucked at this album. We’re currently at a point where Colour Haze are said to have inspired (and, via their own Elektrohasch imprint, materially supported) a blossoming new scene of European heavy psychedelia; a second wave of stoner rock, so to speak.
As a statement about the band’s position in late 2012, this record seems softer, more contemplative overall than previous efforts. Earth-breaking riffs aren’t dropped with the frequency they once might have been, but when they do hit, they come on like a breezeblock to the face, all the more striking for the tinkly piano, or the up-tempo conga drums, or the long, protracted, dynamic builds that have preceded them.
What you find more of are arrangements of instruments, lush in their density, combined in unexpected ways, over melodies that are often simple yet heartbreakingly gorgeous. Say what you want about Kyuss and the bands they inspired, it was rare indeed you could call their stuff ‘beautiful’ – though it had its moments. That adjective keeps cropping up all over the place with Colour Haze.
Breath bridges muscular bass and precisely-tapped ride cymbal triplets with guitars that introduce the riff with palm-muted staccato twitches, soon blossoming into a pretty winding lead. It grows, taking us through an easygoing chorus section straight out of Palm Desert. High-register piano notes carry us onward, plinking away over a softly-crooned section, harmonies shared between Koglek and a guest vocalist. When the chorus comes back it’s thicker, carried along by a melodic tremelo lead. But the last four minutes are where it really shifts up a gear, and we’re thrust without warning into a trademark Colour Haze jam that breaks out into a daisy-cutting riff Fu Manchu would be proud to throw down. The overall build is just fucking stunning.
She Said, the opener and title track, seeds a lovely piano refrain among gently struck chimes and ambient background noise – and when the guitars eventually come in, they’re backed by what sounds like classic Doctor Who theremin. Before long we’re tits-deep in a conga-slapping fuzzed-up freakout jam that somehow blends seamlessly into a bit of Latin-flavoured noodling. And then it all boomerangs the other way again, taking us across and back through theremin-country, eventually climaxing with the traditional Colour Haze thunderhead.
Grace is probably the loveliest thing in the whole hour and twenty minutes, and that’s purely down to the string arrangement; plucked notes accent plaintively bowed-strings over an acoustic guitar lick that eventually brings the whole band in. The strings and the guitars trade the main riff back and forth, and then join their voices together to crash away in a spray of tinkling chimes and the same pastoral ambience that introduced the album. It is unspeakably gorgeous.
As promised, I’m going on at ridiculous length. Every single time I’ve tried to encapsulate my appreciation for this band in words, I’ve fallen short. So suck it up, I’m not failing again. I’ve not even got round to talking about the triumphant horn blasts that close out Transformation. I’ve said not one word about the lurching, haunting Stand In… or the funkified jazzed-up two-minute boogie of This which proves that Colour Haze retain full control over their process. They are more than capable of reigning in their sprawling ambition when it is warranted.
I suppose there’s a couple of criticisms to be made of this album. There’s a hell of a lot of lush, moon-shooting orchestration to chew through here, and if what you’re looking for is crunchy drugs band riffs, you may find it rough going just waiting around for the next heavy bit to happen. But the thing with Colour Haze is even when you’re hanging tight, anticipating a bit that’s coming up, it’s always worth sticking around for the build-up.
And undeniably, 82 minutes is a long time to spend listening to a record, but then again four years is quite a long time to spend waiting for one. It’s probably my teenage fan gland speaking here, but to be honest, I don’t think this record is long enough.