Haze – Clouds Surround & Breathe

My first play of Haze’s debut album was in the office, and it didn’t really work for me there. I also tried the car on a bright sunny day, and again, no joy. However, through headphones, running around Richmond Park at midnight, it can only be described as majestic. Bleak, yes, abrasive, certainly at times; but this just adds to the epic feel.

It seems obvious to say, and probably less so with the amount of download-only sales going on today, but the cover art is a really important part of the whole package of a release – and Clouds Surround & Breathe doesn’t disappoint. A largely featureless landscape hidden behind, well, a haze, sits above tiny delicate lettering. This works really well to get across the feeling of this record – it’s a big haunting soundscape with moments of quiet, almost ethereal contemplation. Anyone looking for a quick easy reward should find it elsewhere though; at no point is there any concession to providing anything remotely resembling a single, and most of the tracks clock in at well over five minutes.

There’s not really any stand out tracks, but only in the way that there’s not really any stand out stones in Westminster Abbey. Instead, there’s a collection of well-constructed parts which work together to build something that should be enjoyed as a whole – a brooding edifice designed to be enjoyed in quiet contemplation when the night has closed in. It’s worth mentioning that the production fits the songs perfectly; it’s raw and sparse and adds to the breathing space created by the drawn out nature of the music. The vocals are a perfect fit too, breathy screaming mixed with moments of calm; used to build more on the overall song rather than leading the way with repeated motifs.

So, will this be a record everyone will love? No, definitely not – it’s impenetrable and difficult to get into at first – but I think this is what Haze would want. It’s something the listener will have to make an effort with, but if they do, they’ll find themselves rewarded handsomely.

– Matt Barnwell

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