Weird science

San Fran­cisco-based bof­fin comes up with the goods yet again. By James McNair.

Mojo (UK) - - News -

Kelley Stoltz Que Aura CAS­TLE FACE. CD/LP

LIKE BOBBY ‘Boris’ Pick­ett singing the Mon­ster Mash, Kelley Stoltz al­ways comes on like he’s “been work­ing in the lab late one night”. One of the great stu­dio tin­ker­ers, he is for­ever hatch­ing psych-pop thrills, the sonic cousins of dry-ice wreathed test-tubes bub­bling with gar­ish elixirs. That su­per­an­nu­ated tech­nol­ogy and skewed mu­si­cal for­mu­lae are dear to Stoltz’s heart might be guessed from the back­wards gui­tars and off­beat im­agery of the oth­er­wise Mo­town-ish Tran­quilo, track two on Que Aura. “Don’t put me out to pas­ture with the old ma­chines,” sings Stoltz, “I’ve seen how they die/Ugly and slow/And no­body can find the re­mote con­trol.” Lyri­cally speak­ing, this is cer­tainly a more opaque and play­fully ar­cane out­ing than 2015’s In Tri­an­gle Time. But on the fab­u­lously-named No Pep­per For The Dust­man as else­where – does that ti­tle flag a failed drug score, or did Kelley sim­ply mis­place the Fabs clas­sic he’d hoped to lend his refuse col­lec­tor? – the melodies are ev­ery bit as im­me­di­ate and in­deli­ble as last time out. All meaty plec­trum bass and fizzing ana­logue synths, ex­em­plary opener I’m Here For Now finds Stoltz be­hind his own dis­tinc­tive wall of sound, “look­ing for mean­ing in quo­ta­tions from the dead”, while Get Over weaves magic from an echo­ing, two-chord gui­tar vamp, and For You packs a rub­bery riff with a strange grav­i­ta­tional pull and a vo­cal rem­i­nis­cent of Devo’s Mark Mothers­baugh. Posses­sor, mean­while, doesn’t so much start-up as beam Stoltz down, his strummed acous­tic gui­tar ush­ered in on a wave of sci-fi am­bi­ence. “I’m the proud posses­sor of all these lit­tle things I’ve car­ried home,” he sings, “blow­ing smoke rings at the kitchen ta­ble.” But what are those things that Stoltz has brought home? And where, ex­actly, has he been, other than well over the herba­ceous bor­der? These 11 songs never let the beats-per­minute lag, and this – cou­pled with the easy abun­dance of melody with which our host con­tin­ues to leaven his left-field pow­er­pop – makes for some de­li­ciously easy lis­ten­ing. On funked-up, loved-up closer Empty Kicks, more­over, we even get that rare thing, a Stoltz con­fes­sional: “No more empty kicks/No more late nights alone/ No lit­tle bag of tricks gonna see me through un­til the dawn.” Stoltz mixed Que Aura at his Elec­tric Duck stu­dio in San Fran­cisco af­ter a stint play­ing rhythm gui­tar on tour with Echo & The Bun­ny­men, a band he loves so much he once cov­ered their Crocodiles al­bum in its en­tirety. Los­ing his stu­dio tan for a few months seems to have done Stoltz a power of good, sharp­en­ing his in­stincts, and en­abling his re­freshed ears to make ex­actly the right judge­ment calls.

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