Review ·

In recent years we've seen what artists can accomplish by not leaving their living rooms, either by whispering into a computer (Pajo's underexposed, minimalist 2005 gem Pajo) or rocking reel to reel (Say Hi to Your Mom). Neo-hippie Kelley Stoltz is a home-recording multi-instrumentalist who keeps his drums, amps, pianos, harmoniums and spoons in his bedroom, where he has amassed hundreds of songs, including Crockodials, a track-by-track cover of Echo and the Bunnymen's Crocodiles. He backed and pressed 2001's Antique Glow and created a buzz for the album by peddling the self-drawn cover art at San Francisco�area art shows, subsequently landing him a deal with Sub Pop. That Stoltz has now crafted a simple but textured album to match his back story in complexity and intrigue is one of the many pleasures of Below the Branches.

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Stoltz is a vinyl geek with a passion for the pop/rock classics of the 1960s and 1970s and a talent to recreate these sounds alongside his own psych-folk musings. Nowhere is this more evident than the stunningly Lennon-esque "The Sun Comes Through." It's spot-on with thick rhythm, piano pacing, back-of-the-room vocals and Lennon's occasionally creaky but always entertaining cosmic pathos: "The river is the holy ghost/ Aquatic master of the theory of flow."

 

For all the layers, Below the Branches never aspires for more than simple sing-alongs. Opener "Wave Goodbye" is rolling piano and guitar-pop repetition, the simplicity of which is summed up in Stoltz's closing line: "There are words here so I sing them/ Until all the music's done." Most of the album is upbeat, although Nick Drake is omnipresent on the acoustic strum and vocal patterns of "Little Lords" and "No World Like the World." In an effort not to offend, Stoltz crams in as many shout-outs as possible; "Ever Thought of Coming Back" replicates classic Beach Boys harmony, and "Words" is wintry, Steve Miller blues.

 

On their 1987 album, Locust Abortion Technician, Butthole Surfers opened with a blatant Sabbath-ian riff called "Sweat Loaf" (see Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf"), and this is a reminder that direct takes on classics are most inspired when subtlety isn't the goal. Drunk with enthusiasm, Stoltz presses us: "Do you see what I'm doing here? This is how they did it, isn't it remarkable?" Below the Branches is rare: belligerent pop melodies aren't tripped up or muddled by the desire for homage. This is a brief, refreshing escape from the trend-channeling that seems to have replaced genuineness.

 

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"Memory Collector" MP3

MP3s

Streaming audio

Kelley Stoltz Web site

Sub Pop Web site

  • Wave Goodbye
  • Little Lords
  • Ever Thought Of Coming Back
  • Words
  • Mystery
  • Summer's Easy Feeling
  • Memory Collector
  • Birdies Singing
  • The Rabbit Hugged The Hound
  • The Sun Comes Through
  • Winter Girl
  • Prank Calls
  • No World Like The World
Two Gallants - What the Toll Tells Magnetic Fields The Tourniquet

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