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Kelley Stoltz - Circular Sounds

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Artist: Kelley Stoltz

Album: Circular Sounds

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Feb. 4, 2008

Kelley Stoltz’s music preaches to the choir. If you’re not already a believer in the aesthetic supremacy of music that sprouts from a field seeded with beat combo dynamics and fertilized by ’60s and ’70s-vintage studio experimentation, you’re not going to have much time for it. But if you’ve already heard the word, you’ll want to listen to Circular Sounds to get that highly satisfying “they DO still make ‘em like they used to” feeling.

Stoltz’s sound-bag bulges with artifacts pilfered from the past, like the sinus pinch and vulnerable wobble in Ray Davies’ voice, the blunt bang of John Cale’s piano playing, the visceral chug of Morrison and Reed’s rhythm strumming, and the full-stop punctuation of Bowie playing saxophone. But the very fact that he’s stolen them confirms his artistry; Stoltz plays a lot of stuff that sounds familiar, but nothing sounds borrowed. This is his fourth album – fifth if you count a song-by-song recreation of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles – so he’s had plenty of time to digest his influences and master his craft.

Circular Sounds takes the craft aspect to a higher level. Stoltz’s early records were scrappy, guitar-centric home recordings, and his previous LP, Below the Branches, was a piano-dominated, primary colors affair, but this one is a study in how to blend signifiers and sonorities so that they enhance each other. Take “I Nearly Lost My Mind,” for example. The verses flow easily on a stream of mixed electric and acoustic guitars, the bridge’s clavioline-like electronic whines set you up for swooping Beach Boys-style harmonies, and the chorus’s sudden deceleration and sound effects brings to mind the Bunnymen. It’s quite the soufflé, but the music progresses so easily that it never feels like Stoltz is ticking off ingredients in a recipe.

He also avoids the flabbification that afflicts so many converts to studio-craft; the oomph in “Your Reverie’s” beat and the sharp-ended strand of synth and fuzz-tones that take over when his voice drops out for a moment belies the song’s dreamy name. Stoltz’s skills in amalgamation spills over into the lyrics’ shades of light and dark; “Morning Sun” is about waking up on a work day with a hangover, yet it radiates hopefulness.

But I fear that one of the things I like most about Circular Sounds, Stoltz’s resolutely old-fashioned taste in sounds, will limit its appeal the way some people tune out any movie that’s in black and white. The effects on his voice sound like they were run through tubes, the piano sounds like it has air and keys inside instead of circuits, and you can hear the snares in the drum. But if you recognize that such sounds can be as sumptuous as the best pre-WW II cinematography, Circular Sounds could be for you.

By Bill Meyer

Other Reviews of Kelley Stoltz

Below The Branches

To Dreamers

Double Exposure

Read More

View all articles by Bill Meyer

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