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