There’s no time for stagnation it seems in the Kelley Stoltz catalog. The last two years alone have seen four albums and Stoltz’ quality never slips from view. Ah! (etc) marks the second LP for 2020 and the pair alone are an impressive feat of duality within his songwriting prowess. Hard Feelings embraced a low-slung vision of power pop — an almost quick and dirty album that let a blast of cold air jolt it with life. The record wasn’t too far removed from the fertile garden of hooks and humility that mark Stoltz output, but with its inspiration laid in a cheap guitar and a cheeky pseudonymous side project from Jedediah Smith (My Teenage Stride, Jeanines), it marked a bit of a departure from the darker strains of his pop universe. The schism pinned Hard Feelings as both an outlier and also one of his best offerings. The album was immediate and unfussed. His second wind in 2020 sees Stoltz slot back into his former hallmarks nicely, with the layered pop taking the reins once again and the clouds forming once again over the studio.
While it doesn’t benefit from the same sharp slap of Hard Feelings, the new LP boasts a new wave wash and a cameo from Echo and The Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant. The record pulls the curtains against the sun and sulks a bit, but does so with a flair that can hardly be accused of being dour. Stoltz brings out the synth sway, a strum and crunch in the guitar game and his bittersweet hooks that can’t help but let sighs build up underneath the glossy veneer. In a way this is a continuation of what was built on My Regime — a pliable, chameleonic pop animal that’s trying on new wave and melancholic pop skins and burrowing into the brain with hooks that are subtle, yet endlessly effective. If given an ultimatum to choose one Stoltz LP you need in 2020, I’d have to say that Hard Feelings edges the win, but there’s a lot to love on Ah! (etc).
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