The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

Posted in Features on June 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

the obelisk top-20-2017-so-far

The time has come to take a look at some of the best albums of 2017 so far. I hardly know where to start. In some ways, this list is harder to put together than the end-of-year one that comes out in December, because by then not only do you have the full year to draw on, but it’s easier to sort of put a narrative to the course of events of 12 months, whereas in this case, obviously, the story is half told. So I guess if the list feels incomplete, that might be part of why.

Even with just six months to work from, the list has become fairly immense. I’ve been keeping track of 2017 releases since about September of last year, and the amount of stuff that’s come through has been staggering. Every year brings good music, and the basic fact of the matter is that if you don’t think so it’s because you’re either unwilling to find it or unwilling to let yourself hear it, but 2017 has been a multi-tiered assault of sounds from all over the world, and it seems like whatever you might be into, the universe stands ready to accommodate.

There’s a lot to say about that — is the market flooded? — but it’s a topic for a different post. I’ll keep it short here and just say that as always, it’s an honor to be covering the stuff that I cover and that I deeply appreciate you taking the time to read. I hope if there’s a release you feel deeply passionate about that you don’t see on my list below that you’ll please let me know about it in the comments.

Also, please note that in order to qualify for this list, a record had to come out on or before June 9. That’s the cutoff.

Okay, here goes:

The Top 20 of 2017 So Far

elder reflections of a floating world

1. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World
2. All Them Witches, Sleeping Through the War
3. Samsara Blues Experiment, One with the Universe
4. Colour Haze, In Her Garden
5. Atavismo, Inerte
6. Sun Blood Stories, It Runs Around the Room with Us
7. Cloud Catcher, Trails of Kozmic Dust
8. Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn
9. The Obsessed, Sacred
10. Mothership, High Strangeness
11. Spaceslug, Time Travel Dilemma
12. Electric Moon, Stardust Rituals
13. Alunah, Solennial
14. Arc of Ascent, Realms of the Metaphysical
13. Rozamov, This Mortal Road
14. Siena Root, A Dream of Lasting Peace
15. PH, Eternal Hayden
16. Geezer, Psychoriffadelia
17. T.G. Olson, Foothills Before the Mountain
18. Telekinetic Yeti, Abominable
19. The Devil and the Almighty Blues, II
20. Lord, Blacklisted

Notes

If you keep up with this site at all, there probably aren’t a lot of surprises in there. These are all records that have been discussed at great length over the last six months, reviewed, streamed, analyzed, whathaveyou’d all the way. If you don’t believe me, search any of the names. Still, as far as my personal picks go and who I think has crafted something special over the last six months, this feels pretty representative to me. I managed to live for a full week with the list as you see it above, without making changes. That’s usually my standard.

And as always, it’s a combination of what I’ve listened to most and what I feel has had the greatest impact thus far into the year. Between the two, there was little doubt Elder would take the top spot. I’ve probably listened to the All Them Witches record more than anything else this year, including Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, but the truth is the Massachusetts trio are working at a level of their own making in terms of their sonic progression, and that they’ve emerged as one of if not the most pivotal American underground heavy rock bands going. The situation was much the same when they put out Lore in 2015 and claimed that year’s top-album spot, but even since then their sound has expanded and they continue to demand ultimate respect.

As for the All Them Witches album — absolute stunner. The increased depth of their arrangements on Sleeping Through the War came at no expense of songwriting, resulting in ultra-memorable material that could either wash over you with melody or shove you out of your seat with the force of its rhythm, and that band continues to be a treasure. No other way to put it.

From there, we move into what I think are the four best heavy psych offerings of 2017 so far, with Samsara Blues Experiment, Colour Haze, Atavismo and Sun Blood Stories, in that order. Samsara Blues Experiment’s return has been a joy to witness and their first album in four years lived up to the occasion. Colour Haze expanded the palette from their last album with In Her Garden and proved as immersive as always. I’m still getting to know that record. Atavismo’s second full-length upped the progressive influences without losing fluidity or cohesion in songwriting, and Sun Blood Stories’ hypnotic shoegaze offered expansive thrills and a sense of varied, beautifully crafted exploration.

A pair of exciting young bands thereafter in Colorado’s Cloud Catcher, whose boogie is right-on-right-on and whose development continues to hold much potential, and Vokonis, whose crushing riffs on The Sunken Djinn were met with an increased focus on structure and tightening of approach that maximized overall impact. The Obsessed’s unexpected return could only be called a triumphant one, and Mothership’s third long-player found them working in a richer sense of mood than previous outings, adding yet more character to what was still a blast of good-time rock and roll. They round out the top 10 in full command of who they are as players.

Granted, the next 10 releases are kind of all over the place, but I think that just shows the overarching quality of work being done across the board. From Spaceslug’s melodic stoner-psych to Electric Moon’s studio return — so, so, so good — to Alunah’s continued growth in nature-worshiping heavy and Arc of Ascent’s comebacker of rolling heavy riffs and metaphysical themes, there’s been so much to take in. I especially like the pairing of Rozamov and Siena Root as a sense of scope for 2017 so far; the former being so dark and crushing and the latter who lived up to calling their record A Dream of Lasting Peace. You want to know both ends of the spectrum? There they are.

PH’s Eternal Hayden gets a nod for its effective reset of the context of that band following the completion of their trilogy of albums, and Geezer’s Psychoriffadelia might have been something of a tossoff in the making, but the level at which the New York trio jams nonetheless assures it a spot here. Plus, a Nazareth cover. So duh.

I couldn’t help but include T.G. Olson’s Foothills Before the Mountain on the list as the Across Tundras frontman creeps closer to a full-band sound for his solo work, adding to his acoustic singer-songwriter foundations, and the crush of Telekinetic Yeti’s post-Sleep riffing evoked so many nods I thought they deserved one here as well. Placing The Devil and the Almighty Blues was difficult, but especially after seeing them live, I felt like I had a better idea of where they were coming from on II, so knew they belonged somewhere, even if it was tucked in at the end. And of course, Lord. Always killer, always experimenting, always chaotic. Never have grind and sludge sounded more cohesive together. They’re the band I wish Soilent Green had become, and yes, I mean that.

Honorable Mention

Let’s do another 10 releases, shall we?

21. Beastmaker, Inside the Skull
22. Arduini/Balich, Dawn of Ages
23. Brume, Rooster
24. John Garcia, The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues
25. Six Sigma, Tuxedo Brown
26. Demon Head, Thunder on the Fields
27. Summoner, Beyond the Realm of Light
28. Steak, No God to Save
29. Six Organs of Admittance, Burning the Threshold
30. Dool, Here Now There Then

And just to make the point, here are even more worthy of note in this space:

Elbrus, Elbrus
Cortez, The Depths Below
Ecstatic Vision, Raw Rock Fury
Child, Blueside (a December 2016 release, maybe, but I think the vinyl was this year, so whatever)
Pallbearer, Heartless
Spidergawd, IV
Green Meteor, Consumed by a Dying Sun
Loss, Horizonless

There are of course other names as well that come to mind. Like I said at the outset, it’s a crowded field: Hymn, Arbouretum, Green Meteor, REZN, Demon Head, Galley Beggar, Devil’s Witches, Orango, Heavy Traffic, Coltsblood, Mt. Mountain, Vokonis, Solstafir, High Plains, on and on.

Also worth highlighting several really, really quality live records that have surfaced so far this year. I didn’t really know where to place them among the other studio offerings, but they deserve note for sure:

Causa Sui, Live in Copenhagen
Death Alley, Live at Roadburn
My Sleeping Karma, Mela Ananda – Live
Enslaved, Roadburn Live

More to Come

Of course, we’re still just barely halfway through the year, so keep on the lookout for more to follow. If you didn’t see my massive 200+ albums to watch for list in January, it has many that have come out and many more still to surface, but here are a few highlight names as well that you’re going to want to keep an eye on in the months ahead:

Queens of the Stone Age
Radio Moscow
The Atomic Bitchwax
Kadavar
Ufomammut
The Midnight Ghost Train
Moon Rats
Clamfight
Egypt
the Melvins
Bison Machine
Seedy Jeezus
High on Fire
Monster Magnet

Thanks for Reading

Before I check out, I’d like to give special mention to Lo-Pan’s In Tensions EP as the best short release of the year thus far. Along with EPs from Godhunter, Kings Destroy, Solace and Shroud Eater, it has assured those seeking a quick fix are handed their ass in return for asking.

Well, that’s about where I’m at with it. As per usual, I’m sure there are things I forgot and/or left off here, because I’m human and whatnot, so please if you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments so long as you can keep it cordial. No name calling. I’m sensitive and you’ll ruin my whole day. I mean that.

Thanks again for being a part of this and here’s to an excellent rest of 2017.

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Colour Haze Update In Her Garden Vinyl Progress; Confirm Live Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 7th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I know a few people were holding off on digging into the latest outing from Colour Haze until vinyl could be had, and hey, I get it. That’s not really my mindset — give it to me as soon as possible; unmastered? rough mix? still being recorded? can I sit in the control room? — but if you want your dinner cooked a certain way, sometimes it takes longer to have the meal. Accordingly, if you want vinyl these days, that has its own wait time. If you can resist just hitting up YouTube in the interim, you’re a stronger person than I am, but generally speaking, give me a CD and I’m a happy boy.

Nonetheless, Colour Haze guitarist/vocalist and Elektrohasch Schallplatten label honcho Stefan Koglek sent out the update below concerning the vinyl release for In Her Garden (review here), and it seemed only fair to post it, both for those holdouts who haven’t picked up the album yet in any form and those who might be inclined, say, to get it in multiple editions, multiple formats. I keep waiting for my Colour Haze cassette reissues. And I suspect I’ll keep waiting. Like, forever.

Colour Haze were on the road in March alongside My Sleeping Karma for a tour The Obelisk had the extreme pleasure of co-presenting. They’ve confirmed festival dates for the next couple months including SonicBlast Moledo in Portugal, Desertfest Athens and Keep it Low, where they’ll headline as hometown heroes in Munich, because right on.

Info follows courtesy of the PR wire:

colour haze

An update to: Elektrohasch 011 Colour Haze – In Her Garden DLP

The delivery from the factory is scheduled on June 27th now. All orders will be shipped until the first week of July. Thank you all for your patience and trust!

Colour Haze tour dates

apart of the Rotormania next week following shows are confirmed in 2017 so far:

30.6. – IT – Somenfest , 25050 Ome (Brescia)
08.7. – AT – Salzburg, Rockhouse Dome of Rock Festival
23.7. – GER – Riegsee, Raut Oak Fest
13.8. – POR – Moledo, Sonic Blast Moledo
07.10. – GR – Athens, Desertfest
20.10. – GER – München, Keep it Low

http://colourhaze.de/
www.elektrohasch.de

Colour Haze, “Skydancer”

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Review & Track Premiere: Colour Haze, In Her Garden

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 9th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

colour haze in her garden

[Click play above to stream ‘Labyrinthe’ from Colour Haze’s new album, In Her Garden. CD is out this month with vinyl to follow in May, both via Elektrohasch.]

In part, it’s a question of scale. The 12th studio album from Munich-based trio Colour Haze, titled In Her Garden and featuring an array of tracks named for plant-life including “Black Lilly,” “Magnolia,” “Arbores,” “Lotus,” “Lavatera,” and so on, lands less than three full years after its predecessor, 2014’s To the Highest Gods We Know (review here) — they also had the live album, Live Vol. 1 – Europa Tournee 2015 (review here), out in 2016 — but in its sound and scope, it might have more in common in terms of presentation with the record before that, 2012’s She Said (review here). Like that offering, In Her Garden is a sprawling, 2LP affair — its 72 minutes fit on one CD, however, which She Said didn’t — rife with progressive forward steps on the part of the self-recording three-piece guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald, who work with Jan Faszbender on modular synth, Rhodes, Hammond and, on the 63-second interlude “sdg I” and the nine-minute “Labyrinthe,” an arrangement of bass-clarinet, trombone and tuba.

Horns and wind at this point aren’t anything new for Colour Haze, and the inclusion of a string quartet arranged by Mathis Nitschke on “Lotus” will be familiar to anyone who encountered “Grace” from She Said or the closing title cut from To the Highest Gods We Know, but even in how these elements are integrated, In Her Garden demonstrates continued growth on the part of Colour Haze who, 22 years on from making their debut with 1995’s Chopping Machine (discussed here), absolutely refuse to stagnate on any creative level. To be clear, In Her Garden is the most progressive Colour Haze offering to-date, and whether that’s heard in the unabashedly joyous bounce of “Lotus,” blending acoustics and electrics along with the aforementioned strings, or the earlier fuzz immersion of “Lavatera,” or the noodling in “Magnolia” that later receives an echo backed by dream-toned Rhodes in “sdg II,” it is true of the complete front-to-back experience of the 13-track entirety.

Another factor drawing comparison between In Her Garden and She Said over To the Highest Gods We Know is the basic length. The 2012 album was a massive 81 minutes long — as noted, too much for a single CD — where its follow-up was just 40. With that came more stripped-down ideas built off what She Said accomplished before it, and likewise, In Her Garden continues the movement forward from To the Highest Gods We Know. Its LPs divide into an even 36 minutes each, and each component LP into roughly even sides of about 18 minutes apiece. Only side A has four tracks, the rest have three, and each side begins with an intro/interlude of its own. In the case of side A, that’s the semi-title-track “Into Her Garden,” but the rest are given the lowercase initials “sdg” and offered as “sdg I,” a minute of horn warmup and clarinet melody, the 1:49 “sdg II,” which as noted brings back the standout progression of “Magnolia,” and finally the 1:55 “sdg III” an acoustic/sitar (the latter performed by Mario Oberpucher) run that one only wishes went on longer as it leads the way into the closing duo of “Skydancer” and “Skydance.”

These short pieces do much to enhance the atmosphere and structure of In Her Garden as a whole, whether it’s providing a sneaky foreshadow of things to come or reinforcement tying together what’s already happened, but from Faszbender‘s organ work on “Lavatera” to Koglek‘s shimmering guitar lead “Arbores” to the additional percussion contributed by Robert Schoosleitner, formerly of Elektrohasch jammers Been Obscene, the album brims with a diversity befitting its garden theme — a variety of different species that, when arranged as impeccably as they are, create something that gives a sense of wholeness and a sense of beauty that, individually, each species could not. Moving between more traditional structures early in “Black Lilly,” “Magnolia” and “Arbores” into more jam-based ideas like 11-minute side B/LP1 closer “Islands,” which follows the swirling “Lavatera” and holds back its vocals until nearly eight minutes in, Colour Haze enact a fluidity often imitated but still distinctly their own, and while each song seems to be precisely placed just where it needs to be to maximize symmetry, instrumental or vocalized, to put on In Her Garden and listen front-to-back on CD or digital, the flow between tracks is practically seamless.

colour haze in her garden booklet

Granted, it shouldn’t be especially surprising that a group more than two decades into their career knows how to make songs work well next to each other, and it’s true that some of the aspects of In Her Garden show themselves to be signature Colour Haze, whether it’s the riff that appears in the apex of “Skydance” as the album moves toward its conclusion, the unmatched class and instrumental chemistry between KoglekMerwald and Rasthofer or the live feel between the three of them that underscores even the broadest of arrangements, on side C’s horn-laden “Labyrinthe” or the subsequent, string-infused “Lotus.” None of this is to In Her Garden‘s detriment. Rather, even as the second LP takes its cue from “Islands” and moves away somewhat — “Lotus” aside — from the garden theme and plant-based titles, it’s the core strength of Colour Haze‘s style giving them the foundation on which to build their arrangements.

The pair of “Labyrinthe” and “Lotus” most outwardly emphasize this, but it’s true to varying degrees of “Lavatera” and “Islands,” of “Black Lilly,” “Magnolia” and “Arbores,” and of “Skydancer” and “Skydance” as well — the whole record does it, and then finds further enrichment through the intro to each LP side. One can listen to the Rhodes on “sdg II,” or hear the patient drawl of horns in “Labyrinthe” or the swing in “Black Lilly” and point to individual achievements that demonstrate Colour Haze‘s relentless, continual evolution of ideas, but with In Her Garden the more appropriate way to look at it is with the resounding affect of the entirety. It’s not just about one song. It’s about the conversation of songs, and how they interact with each other. “Lotus,” which wants only for the inclusion of a full nine-part harmony chorus in its finish, nonetheless provides a wonderful crescendo in its bouncing apex, but it’s not just for itself — it’s for “Labyrinthe” before it and the closing duo still to come. Each cut feels an effect from its surroundings, and the whole experience of In Her Garden becomes a world that lets the listener come inside and wander as they will, or just sit quietly and let these special moments wash over.

I feign no objectivity when it comes to this band or their output. I am a fan and when I put on In Her Garden to bask in the winding rhythm of “Magnolia,” the keys on “Skydancer” or the glorious pull of “Lotus,” I hear them with a fan’s ears and experience a fan’s joy in returning to them. That said, In Her Garden only provides further argument for why that’s the case in its concept and its memorable songcraft, and shows clearly why a generation of heavy psych rockers has worked so hard to capture a fraction of what makes the work of KoglekRasthofer and Merwald so continually and enduringly special. We’re now 13 years on from their self-titled LP (discussed here) and 11 from its 2006 follow-up, Tempel (discussed here), which in many ways have become defining outings for Colour Haze, but time has done nothing to dull either their aesthetic luster nor the will that drives them to create.

One can trace a line from earlier works like 1999’s Periscope, 2000’s CO2, 2001’s Ewige Blumenkraft (reissue review here) and 2003’s Los Sounds de Krauts — their first double-album — on through Colour Haze, Tempel, 2008’s All and into their latter-day works and find no point at which they did not push themselves to find new avenues to explore as players and writers. When one considers this body of work — the whole garden — Colour Haze become all the more a singular entity in Europe’s heavy underground as well as a defining presence within it, but even taken out of its context, In Her Garden not only stands up to the legacy behind it, but feels like just as much an invitation to those who’ve never heard the trio as it is the latest welcome return for longtime followers. Its warmth of tone, overall scope, melodic depth and thoughtful ambition ensure it is entirely Colour Haze‘s own and that its resonance will hold for years to come even as it stands tall and graceful among the best full-lengths of 2017. Recommended.

Colour Haze website

Colour Haze on Thee Facebooks

Elektrohasch Schallplatten website

Colour Haze at Sound of Liberation

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Colour Haze Set March and May Release Dates for In Her Garden

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

German heavy psych forerunners Colour Haze have reportedly given their new album, In Her Garden, May 17 vinyl release date. They’re set to tour next month with My Sleeping Karma on a run presented by, among others, this site, and will reportedly have CDs on hand for that run. Cover art for the impending 2LP release, which of course will be out on their own Elektrohasch Schallplatten has surfaced, along with some minor particulars from a release page at Clear Spot Distribution, linked below. Thanks to Noel Oxford for bringing the art to my attention.

Colour Haze‘s last studio album, To the Highest Gods We Know (review here), was released late in 2014 and represented something of a stripping down of the processes and grandeur shown on 2012’s She Said (review here), which like In Her Garden, was a double-record. Whether or not that portends anything in terms of the sonic direction of the new material, I wouldn’t guess. Colour Haze have never failed to move forward stylistically from one release to the next, so just about the only safe bet to make is that whatever they wind up doing across the 75-minute release, it’ll be their own.

Info is pretty minimal at this point, but here’s what I’ve been able to find so far, as well as those tour dates again in case you want to book tickets, flights, and so on:

colour haze in her garden

COLOUR HAZE – IN HER GARDEN (2LP)

Label: ELEKTROHASCH
Release date: 15/05/2017

The 2017 full-length by the German psych heads offers approximately 75 minutes of out-there rock sounds. This DOUBLE-LP on 180-gram vinyl is presented in a gatefold sleeve.

colour haze my sleeping karma tourColoured Karma Tour 2017: My Sleeping Karma + Colour Haze
16.03. Cologne, Live Music Hall
17.03. UK – London, The Garage
18.03. BEL – Leuven, Het Depot
19.03. NL – Nijmegen, Doornroosje
20.03. F- Paris, Divan Du Monde
21.03. CH – Pratteln, Z7
22.03. Munich, Feierwerk
23.03. Saarbrücken, Garage
24.03. Darmstadt, Centralstation
25.03. Hamburg, Markthalle
26.03. Berlin, Astra
27.03. Hannover, Faust
28.03. Leipzig, Werk 2
29.03. Nürnberg, Hirsch
30.03. A- Vienna, Arena
31.03. A – Graz, PPC
01.04. Stuttgart, JH Hallschlag

http://colourhaze.de/
http://elektrohasch.de/
http://www.clear-spot.nl/item/443580/colour_haze_in_her_garden.html

Colour Haze, “To the Highest Gods We Know”

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