I have decided to start a new series at the Cafe. I aim to expose some bands and artists that some how seem to creep under everyone’s radar despite being absolutely amazing. I’m forever seeking out new music and you all know how great a feeling it is when you uncover that gem that makes you realise that the best music isn’t what you hear on the radio, but that you have to work heard to find.
First up in the series is Kelley Stoltz. I first heard of Kelley Stoltz, bizarrely enough, in a National newspaper. They gave one of his albums a 9/10 review and mentioned the names Brian Wilson and The Beatles. This instantly piqued my interest. Despite this exposure, I never saw any mention of him anywhere again. Which is odd because the guy really knows how to write a tune!
Kelley Stoltz is a Michigan native, although according to Wikipedia he resides in San Francisco. He definitely carries that West Coast vibe in a lot of his songs. He records all his songs at home on a multi track recorder, playing the instruments himself, before taking them into the studio to get session players to add stuff like strings and horns where needed. His songs are extremely hummable and melodic, some with a tinge of melancholia. He can variously sound like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, The Kinks and Harry Nilsson. To date he has released seven albums under his own name, and produced others for the likes of Thee Oh Sees. He has also featured on other artists albums, and his tracks have featured on numerous advertisments. You may even have heard some in the past!
The Past Was Faster (1999)
Key Track: Popular Diseases
Stoltz’s debut is a low-fi home recording (all recorded on 4 track) of fantastic promise, hinting at what was to come on later albums. Although maybe not as accomplished as his later efforts it is still worth a listen. He clearly sets out his stall with regards his influences, Nick Drake and Syd Barrett among them. The album was actually criticised upon release because of it’s clear ‘homage’ moments so this is not necessarily the best place to start.
Antique Glow (2001)
Key Track: Perpetual Night
Kelley Stoltz moved on to album number two and improved on his debut ten fold. He toned down the influences whilst making you aware what bands he loved. Antique Glow is always an interesting listen, and doesn’t rest on it’s laurels once. It is constantly changing, be it acoustic folk, rock, psychedelia. Stoltz has it all in his locker. He is still finding his feet at this stage, and personally it all came together, for me personally, on his next release.
Crock O Dials (2001)
Key track: Do It Clean
Before the year of Antique Glow’s release was over, Stoltz released this album, a re-recording of the Echo & The Bunnymen debut album Crocodiles. He is a huge fan of the band, and upon enjoying the recording of the track Going Up he decided to record and release the whole album. I can’t say it’s my favourite of his releases, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard the original album, but it certainly has it’s merits. Again, he recorded it on 8 track at home, playing it all himself, and in that regard it’s another success. If you like the Bunnymen and you like West Coast garage rock, I’m sure you will find much to enjoy here.
Below The Branches (2006)
Key Track: Wave Goodbye
This is where, for me, Kelley Stoltz really starts coming into his own. His first release for Sub Pop came a full five years after Crock O Dials and it has clearly given him time to hone his craft. He comes flying in with the Beach Boys/Glam number Wave Goodbye and visits all sorts of genres over the course of the album. There are many highlights (Birdies Singing, Memory Collector, Winter Girl, The Sun Comes Through) that are all classic sounding, and could come from a different time altogether. They are all as melodic as hell, sung and played in that slightly wonky, off-key kind of way that makes you love it’s rough edges even more. If this had been recorded in a studio with a full band, rather than mostly by Stoltz himself at home it would definitely have lost some of it’s charm. A record that I never tire of listening to, whether it’s summer or winter, and one that I recommend to anyone who wants something slightly different, even to other indie bands they may listen to.
Circular Sounds (2008)
Key track: Something More
The release of Circular Sounds marks the date when I first read that article in the paper about the genius of Kelley Stoltz, and the album is very much an extension of Below The Branches. The songs once again are melodic and clever, woozy and wonky and just so catchy and fun. It is basically pop music, but with a strong psychedelic edge to it. There are some beautiful moments (Something More), some garage rock stompers (Your Reverie) and some out of tune but still lovely songs (Everything Begins). I think the key to this, in addition to Below The Branches, are that the songs are just so simple sounding. I’m sure they weren’t to record, but they are so effortless that they just come across as so. And there isn’t a track you would want to skip.
To Dreamers (2010)
Key Track: Baby, I Got News For You
The release of To Dreamers marked a slight shift for Stoltz. This was more of a professionally produced record and because of that it didn’t quite hit the mark like the previous two in my opinion. That’s not to say this isn’t a good album though, as there is plenty to enjoy here. It has a real garage rock/Nuggets feel to it in places, backed up by his guest Pete Miller, a legend of that scene. If anything, I haven’t given this album enough of a chance because of my love for the previous two albums, so I must try better and give it another listen asap.
Hit After Hit – Sonny And The Sunsets (2011)
Key Track: I Wanna Do It
Kelley Stoltz took a break from his own career next, and guested on this West Coast super group album, led by Sonny Smith. It’s a cool mix of pop, surf, blues and garage rock, all very 60’s Californian. No songs ever outstay their welcome, just short, sharp bursts of pop goodness.
Double Exposure (2013)
Key Track: I don’t know!
I’ll admit now that I’ve not heard Kelley Stoltz new release (it only came about a month or two ago I think) but from the reviews I’ve heard it sounds like it will be another winner. I hope so anyway, and maybe it will finally nudge him into the spotlight a bit, as he is certainly deserving of some recognition for the immensely well crafted pop he makes.
I urge anyone to go seek out some of the albums above, especially if you like melodic indie pop with big hints of The Beatles and Beach Boys.