Dances/Curses by Hey ColossusRelease date: November 6, 2020
Label: Wrong Speed Records
Historically speaking when a band proudly announces “our new album’s a double!” it’s right up there with “all new acoustic versions” as a statement to make sane fans roll their eyes and mutter curses, even as they wearily accept they’ll buy it anyway. For their auspicious thirteenth, the redoubtable noise rock gentlemen of Hey Colossus have now made a double album. Rest easy though friends, ‘cos it’s an absolute belter. Dances / Curses is an enigma and a blessing. It covers much ground and it resists lazy classification. It’s a lot.
Where do you start? First of all, this isn’t a lockdown record, it was completed beforehand and delayed a little while. Whatever 2020 eventually comes to mean in the musical rear view mirror it probably won’t be this. Either the dances or the curses seem to have let it wriggle free of time. An album’s longevity is always a tough thing to judge on release but Dances / Curses feels like it has a far horizon, secrets and hidden corners that will slide into place in five or six years time after hundreds of listens.
What those eye rolling fans fear is quantity obscuring quality. That the extra room is filled with indulgent bloat, lazy arrangements or half arsed flights of whimsy that inter band relations were too fragile to stamp out. There’s none of that here although moody guest vocals, a side long track, and a bloody madrigal all feature. Don’t panic. To be honest there’s less fannying about with interludes, intros and extended codas than there was on Four Bibles. That last album caught them at another line up transition but seems to have rolled straight on into work on this one. ‘Medal’ was already in the live set when they toured Four Bibles. I recall a brief rumour of a repeat of 2015’s feat of two albums in a year. That obviously didn’t happen but that energy builds Dances / Curses, it’s a long but solidly great record.
So the idea that the slash in the title denotes two separate albums, one of dances, one of curses has some merit but doesn’t quite ring true. Least of all because the band considered and rejected the idea of making it into two albums. Still, even from a first listen on a stream it was clear that it divides into four separate sides with differing moods. The first side is non stop bangers. Punchy, loud, and thrilling it’s the sound they’ve been honing over the last few albums. It would make an absolute killer setlist and the fact the band moves so fast it might not get its due in the live arena is a real sadness.
The first two tunes released ahead of the album both come from the spacier, more atmospheric third side. ‘The Mirror’ has a menacing stride and features Mark Lanegan intoning like the wall of a canyon while the band sigh like the heat rising from the darkening desert. It replays an hallucinatory episode that slips away from reality. Or something, the exact events are unclear but it does offer up this advice “it suddenly felt important not to over think things” which is helpful for the record as a whole. ‘U Cowboy’ also has dust on its boots as it stares wide eyed into the big sky. A sense of cosmic wonder is there as well on the trippier ‘Stylites in Reverse’. On ‘Revelation Day’ it comes with an echo of that 80’s big music thing, post punk colliding with psych in wonder at the universe. Its first half is perhaps the most approachable and radio friendly they’ve ever sounded with stirring sing-a-long moments and everything. Possibly alarmed by this they insert a wall of shaking distortion where the solo would go and then push the song’s back half into layer upon layer of disintegrating monochord guitars.
Hey Colossus are not a guitar band, they’re a three guitar band. The joy of that wall of interlocking parts is the core of their sound. In a world where rock music has allegedly run its course they work the magic trick of revivifying it outside of genre boxes and reductive dead ends, creating a unique synthesis of multiple elements. They might be unimaginable without hardcore or Hawkwind but they don’t sound like either. Rather they ride on the subcultural currents that join them. You can hear all manner of sources in their music but they always move beyond them into a unifying noise of their own. Still heavy, still noisy, but also warm and melodic Hey Colossus do not bludgeon you with sound, less a purifying fire than an uplifting embrace.
Witness the awesome power of the fully operational Colossus on 16 minute album standout ‘A Trembling Rose’. A motorik roller of unstoppable forward motion gliding effortlessly through the rise and fall of the landscape. Like the train on the album cover, part frontier cattle guard, part trans-europe express, scattering leaves and stars as it powers along. Guitarist Chris Summerlin has talked about listening to it on the train to recording sessions and a swan flying alongside for the length of the floating middle section. It’s a perfectly fitting image for the track, which takes delicate flight just when you expect them to bring the noise and nimbly shifts around its central driving pulse without ever getting dull or losing its sense of momentum. It’s a stunning piece of work, the most remarkable track on a consistently brilliant album.