Posts Tagged ‘Kelley Stoltz’

Favorite Albums of 2020

Here’s the year end list. I’m not gonna wax on about how this year was rough, we all know it was a shit year and even more so for artists. It was, however, a great year for recorded music, and I had a hard time not making this list about twice as long to show love for all the albums that lifted me this year. I’ve long been against the whole idea of numbered lists, so once again things are presented in quasi-alphabetical style (I always mess one or two up in creating this, but you get the point). I’ve included Bandcamp embeds where they exist, so if you have the means and find something new, please reach out and support the artists here. Looking forward to 2021 as another year that music makes getting through easier.

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Kelley Stoltz

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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Kelley Stoltz – “The Quiet Ones”

For those of us who’ve found the entryway into Stoltz’ disorienting alternate history of pop, each new record is a tumble down a new unseen corridor in his secret world. The last record pulled on a crooked tie and a cocked smile for a power pop pub crawl that came and went with only the lucky to nab it for their shelves and the rest to pine. Stoltz is a wily one, though, and he’s not through with 2020 just yet. Another LP looms, with the SF songwriter returning this time to his roots at Agitated Records, stewards of his ’01 kicker Antique Glow. The first taste of Ah-etc packs the power pop back in the suitcase and returns to the lacquered Formica lilt of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Tiptoeing a guitar slink through hallways of chromed keys, the song turns up the voyeurism and eavesdrops on the neighbors, lurking with a queasy charm. Stoltz, ever the Echo & The Bunnymen fan, spent time as a touring member and his bandmate Will Sergeant returns the favor and lends guitar to “The Quiet Ones.” There’s something of a lost afternoon feeling to the track, swirling around the listener and feeding the internal monologue that turns neighbors into puzzles that populate the mind. The loneliness is palpable and the fluorescent flicker just seeps into those synths harder on each listen. The LP is out November 20th from Agitated.

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Kelley Stoltz

This one slipped out so silently I almost did’t catch it. News came out via Kelley’s seldom-used personal Bandcamp and it’s a crushingly scant run. Last year’s My Regime had quite a few nuggets of garage-psych goodness stashed away between the grooves, but this one comes along and swings the Stoltz agenda in a new direction with superb results. Apparently inspired by power pop with a heavy pub tab, a $75 dollar Japanese guitar, and the Jedediah Smith (Jeanines, My Teenage Stride) side-hustle curiosity Mick Trouble — this is not quite the usual fare from the always mercurial Stoltz. He’s never been less than a harbinger of hooks, but usually there’s a debt to Ray Davies-draped ‘60s pop or in the case of the Willie Weird saga, something skewing hard into the R. Stevie Moore cut-out bin. This time he’s lacquered it all down tight, laying out a record that doesn’t dip into his usual wells.

Here the focus is on the elastic snap of power pop that’s just slightly sanded off from the pure punk formula. Think Advertising, The Quick, The Phones, or The Undertones goofing with undeniable effect on Hypnotised. I can see where the Mick Trouble tie-in crops up. Though this is under his own name, it does feel like Stoltz is pulling a persona here. There’s a power chord crimped slacker swagger. Yet, like The Apples in Stereo before him, he can slide on a power-pop pullover but his songwriting can’t help but inject the form with a certain quirkiness that perfects the formula while breaking a few of its boundaries in delightful ways. Stoltz has long been a legend among those sifting the spit-upon ranks of deep cut, skewed pop fodder, but he hasn’t sounded this wholly energized and invigorated for a few records. Front to back this one is possessed with the ‘70s third-set swagger — crumpled like a crudely drawn flyer and stinking of stickered bar bathrooms with no lock. It doesn’t miss a beat and I’m having a hard time keeping it off the speakers.




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Kelley Stoltz

Just a quick jump after his last offering from Banana & Louie, SF one-man supergroup Kelley Stoltz returns with the even more enticing My Regime. The record is one of Stoltz’ most packed platters in a long time, absolutely awash in bittersweet New Wave touches and moments of pop perfection. He’s long since jettisoned the garage gears from his persona, but there were still some inklings on last years’ Natural Causes and 2015’s In Triangle Time. This one falls closer in spirit to the prismed perspective of 2017’s quiet gem Que Aura, his last for Castle Face. Crammed with strums, multi-part harmonies, and an ingrained melancholy that imprints these songs on the high registers of the listeners’ soul, this is exactly where Stoltz excels.

He’s been found cropping up behind the boards more often these days, with his name swirling about the inserts for Spiral Stairs, RAYS, The Love-Birds, and The Staches, but unless he’s in front of the mic, I always feel like he’s a bit underused. There’s been shades of his work as a sideman for Echo & The Bunnyman on the last album, but as his tenure ended with the band it seems he’s processed even more of the imprint the band had on his formative songwriting years. There’s a warmer aura about Stoltz than Ian McCulloch would often employ, but the insistent, and emotionally complex pop hallmarks line up quite nicely here – think more along the lines of Crocodiles rather than Porcupine. Speaking of ‘80s impressions, and (sadly) timely reminders, there’s also a pretty heavy Cars shadow on this one and, if anyone can make it work, Stoltz is up to the task. There’s a dense catalog of works when approaching Kelley’s work, but after a few spins through My Regime, I’d say this is as good a place to start as any. Among his very best, to be sure.



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Kelley Stoltz – “Turning Into You”

New burner on the line today from Kelley Stoltz. The San Francisco institution (20 years going with this release) continues his run of great solo LPs, while also serving as a go to engineer (Rays, The Mantles, Rat Columns) and sideman (Echo & The Bunnymen). His touring with the latter has definitely rubbed off a bit on his songwriting, but he’s spun the influence into some excellent New Wave-refracted pop tunes that crib the jangle and crunch of his early garage days and land his hooks with a softer blow. He’s back on Spanish outpost Banana & Louie, who also issued his 2018 record Natural Causes. Stoltz has a pretty heavy catalog to wade through, but this sounds like its shaping up to be one of his great ones. Check the first taste of My Regime below and look for it out next month.



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Kelley Stoltz

San Francisco’s secret weapon is slipping out his tenth (!!) album on low key label Banana and Louie. Feels like Stoltz has been a part of this site for the better part if its duration and whether he’s behind the boards (The Love-Birds, Rays, Sandwitches) or working as a studio rat (Thee Oh Sees, Sonny & The Sunsets, The Fresh & Onlys) he’s a welcome name in the credits of any release. More important yet, his own mounting discography is packed full of jangled-nerve post-punk and paisley pools of pop that mark him as not only a conduit for others’ excellent visions, but as a purveyor of his own unique strain of pop psychosis. Natural Causes comes fresh off of last year’s Que Aura. a highlight in the songwriter’s late period catalog. While the short, but sweet, nine-cut album doesn’t quite dig in its heels as hard as last year, there are some moments of pure Stoltz on display here.

The record is valiantly attempting to balance Kelley’s love for light-touch jangles and sunshine shimmy with his weakness for a darker side of the ‘80s. “Decisions Decisions” packs up some of his most shimmering strums, while eschewing the darker threads of post-punk that work their way through his pieces. Similarly, he’s huffing a dose of verdant vapors throughout the handclap-infected shaker, “Are You An Optimist.” The album caps off with one of his most fun tunes in a while, the light-hearted jangler, “Rolling Tambourine” – a barrelhouse romp through 60s’ pop impulses. That’s not to say he’s shed the post-punk pound just yet. There’s a post-disco shiver that runs through “Static Electricity” and he adopts a spaced ominousness for the particularly on the nose “How Psychedelic Of You.” When Stoltz wants to bring on the preening intensity, he’s got you more than covered.

For an artist who has released albums everywhere from Sub Pop to Third Man to Castle Face, this seems to come with desperately little fanfare, which is a damn shame. While he’s got albums that outstrip it in scope and style, there’s a lot to love on Natural Causes and Stoltz never leaves listeners without a few hooks stuck in their heads. There’s some great polish on the album and its clear that Stoltz keeps enough of his studio tricks for his own albums. Don’t let this one slip away in the flood of 2018 albums. Kelley Stoltz remains a modern songwriting workhorse and this small collection does little to tarnish his reputation.



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RSTB Best of 2017

So this year is drawing to a close, or almost, we’re still a few weeks away from pushing the broken pieces of 2017 into the trash. There’s no real solace from a lot of the events that took place this year, but, independent of any current events, music has been kind to us all this year. These are the records that spent the most time on the turntable over here. Yeah, I know its kind of a lot, but there were far too many good ones that haven’t been getting the shouts they need elsewhere. Lets say this serves as both a best of and a most overlooked in one go. If you enjoy ’em, buy ’em if you can. Don’t do them the disservice of just bumping up the streaming numbers.

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Kelley Stoltz

Stoltz’ jump to Castle Face last year brought on a glut of creativity, with one of his most eccentric releases, In Triangle Time, and an extra helping of short form goodies for the hardcore heads. Que Arua shakes the erratic rabbit holes that made Triangle Time fun, but not necessarily consistent. Stoltz buttons down into a synth-pop/new wave enclave that’s shining frothy ’70s licks in a mirrored ball gloss and losing itself in a plume of fog machine echo. The record takes a deep dive into the aesthetic, finding him further from garage than he’s ever been before, but sounding confident in his stylistic tack all the same.

The songs are smudged in the main stage melancholy that churned the ’70s glam Argonauts into ’80s mixtape hereos – digesting post-Roxy comedowns into the kind of tear-streaked earworms that lead Echo, The Psychedelic Furs or The Chameleons to darkened bedrooms across the decade. Whether or not this has to do with Stoltz taking up sideman duties in a reformed Echo and The Bunnymen remains to be seen, but he’s proving to outpace any mere revivalists as far as capturing the spirit of a time and place. Each new listen on this record proves that the studio is truly Stoltz’ home and he remains an exemplary pupil of how his favorite records achieved infamy. This makes Que Aura a case study that won’t let itself out of your head for weeks.




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Kelley Stoltz – “Same Pattern”

San Francisco’s secret weapon, Kelley Stoltz, is back with a new album for Castle Face and he’s perfecting his brand of Neu-wave pop. Stoltz has lived a career on the periphery, often appearing behind the boards or in the guest musician credits of lauded releases, while his own never get the full acclaim they deserve. Even with label stints at Sub Pop and Third Man, Stoltz remains a secret handshake for those with discernible taste, but so be it, I guess. This hint of his newest is pulsating with life – motorik, hazy, blissful and buzzing. It’s a step into the ether for Stoltz, who’s often found his way along the garage-pop spectrum. “Same Pattern” is built on a throbbing vein of Krautrock that’s a step in a new direction, albeit fitting to the artist’s greater pop universe.

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