Kelley Stoltz

Below the Branches

If there was ever a record guaranteed to get a four-star review in MOJO it was Kelley Stoltz's Antique Glow. That 2001 LP showcased the San Francisco resident's love of British music, drawing influence from the strutting post-punk of Echo & the Bunnymen, the sad folk of Nick Drake, and the peculiar psychedelia of Syd Barrett. Anglos may be less enthralled with Stoltz's third effort, as the Michigan native has opted for a more, well, colonial sound. While there are still hints of the crooked teethed -- the boozy jam of "The Sun Comes Through" sounds like an outtake from John Lennon's Walls and Bridges, for instance -- Below the Branches mostly recalls the Beach Boys and Harry Nilsson. Partially, it's because of the lyrical content: Glowwas suffused with murky water imagery, while Branchesis streaked with sunshine, the birds singing and the rabbits hugging (Stoltz hasn't completely given up his trippy side). Like Barrett, Stoltz can still turn an oddball phrase (as when he rhymes "stress ya" with "barometric pressure"), but there are also moments of heartfelt emotion ("Our love may never be free/ But it's cheaper than the price of gasoline"). Much of the record is piano-based, as Stoltz wanted to separate himself from the hippie hordes wielding acoustic guitars. And the song structures are more traditional, with the singer aiming for something that he could play his dad if asked (as opposed to previous tracks like "Mt. Fuji," which were mainly composed of sprawling noise). "Ever Thought of Coming Back" sounds like the Velvet Underground as recorded by Phil Spector, the chugging guitars wrapped up in sweet vocal ooh-oohs and a marching piano part. Elsewhere, Stoltz does his best Brian Wilson imitation, sprinkling songs with sitar, harpsichord-esque organ, and glockenspiel. Below the Branches may not get Stoltz an audience with the queen, but it's something every red-blooded American can be proud of.

 
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