One-man garage auteur arrives at his natural home…
Detroit born and San Francisco based, Kelley Stoltz is a one man garage band intent on squeezing out all the goodness from a half century of pop and rock classicism. A dedicated home-recorder, Stoltz has been releasing fizzy, hugely enjoyable pop records for the best part of two decades, for the last ten years via Sub Pop. When that partnership dissolved after 2010’s To Dreamers, Stoltz hooked up to friend and fellow Detroiter Jack White’s Third Man label and has now made his best album to date.
To say that Double Exposure sounds more honed and expansive than previous releases is a matter of context and relativity. In reality, Stoltz has simply moved from a bedroom in his apartment to the garage of his new house. Little else has changed. He still plays almost all the music himself, records on an eight-track tape machine, and retains a natural inclination to honour the golden age of British beat music. Around a characteristic abundance of richly melodic twists and ear-catching hooks Double Exposure folds in elements of Nuggets-era garage rock, new wave, power pop, cosmic rock and, here perhaps more than ever, the relentless rhythmic pulse of krautrock.
Influences are merrily worn on both sleeves, but Stoltz’s sincerity married to an endearingly loose streak ensures his take on the past avoids the pitfalls of being faux-naif, or clever-clever, or too precisely reverential. “Marcy” – a desperately pretty acoustic ode to lost love, topped with sugar-coated strings – is worthy of McCartney at his most doe-eyed. “Still Feel” is not only propelled by a tight “Taxman” bass line, but also references that song’s skittering drum pattern and mazy burst of solo guitar. “Around Your Face” is soft focus west coast folk-pop with proggy accoutrements: a trippy flute interlude here, a phased Barrett-era Pink Floyd climax there.
The 60s is his benchmark, but Stoltz draws from more recent strains of British music. “Kim Chee Taco Man” is a glistening evocation of Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order and, more precisely, The Cure’s “Push”. The title track, a riot of fuzz bass rattling the herky-jerky structure of The Knack’s “My Sharona”, recalls Graham Coxon’s Q+A album in its meshing of eccentric post-punk British guitar pop and motorised European rhythm.
If the melodies tend to hit first, that beat isn’t far behind. It’s possible to identify a distinct rhythmic imprimatur stretching through Stoltz’s work right back to “Mt Fuji” from 2001’s Antique Glow, and on Double Exposure it’s more pronounced than ever, not least on “Are You My Love”, which has the relentless drive of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On”. The nine-minute “Inside My Head”, the album’s totemic track, stretches these parameters the furthest. Stoltz roots around in his psyche – “I’ve been living inside my head/ Making my little brain a bed” – as the fixed bassline and rhythm provide an anchor for a series of sonically inventive forays: a brief, ghostly approximation of the analogue synth riff from The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, a late-Byrdsian cosmic-jangle, dubby atmospherics, splashes of tambourine and high, hooting backing vocals. This long, lovely journey of unhurried discovery culminates in a beautiful coda, the soft whine of feedback riding a glistening piano figure, bass throbbing below.
Lyrically, a sense of romantic upheaval circles these songs without ever threatening to drag them under. The otherwise breezy “Storms” has Stoltz telling a departed lover “I hope you’ll find your happy home”, but often the longing seems historic and not entirely unpleasant, located in some fondly recalled summer of the mind. On the Nilsson-ish “Down By The Sea” he remembers “the girl from a young man’s dream”, while the final song, “It’s Summertime Again”, is a similarly bittersweet recollection of hazy indolence and regret. Like much of the rest of this fine record, it sounds like a forgotten hit beamed in from some beatific version of the past.
How did the move to Third Man come about?
I signed to do three records with Sub Pop and it was the end of my time there. I could kind of sense that things were moving on, and the guys at Third Man are old friends. They said, ‘Hey, why don’t you play this stuff for Jack [White], and maybe he’ll want to put it out?’ They said yeah straight away. When someone calls you back within 24 hours and says they want to do it, then it’s pretty encouraging.
You’re on a new label, but the sound and overall approach seems familiar.
It’s part of a continuum. I used the same methods, I just have a few better microphones – and I moved out of my old apartment where I made the last three records and moved into my own house a couple blocks away and renovated the garage. It’s a little different, a dedicated recording place, which gives me more freedom and a helluva lot more space.
The rhythm element is really strong on this record.
Oh, I hope so. If I could mix Pete De Freitas from the Bunnymen, the Neu! beat and Mick Fleetwood, I’d be a happy man! That’s what I’m shooting for all the time.
INTERVIEW: GRAEME THOMSON