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Kelley Stoltz - Double Exposure

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Artist: Kelley Stoltz

Album: Double Exposure

Label: Third Man

Review date: Oct. 1, 2013

Poor Kelley Stoltz. For seven full-lengths and about 15 years, he has been the ultimate songwriter’s songwriter, a perennial touchstone, godfather and sometime producer for SF’s lo-fi scene who still makes a living tending bar and selling records. He works in an endless cycle of melancholy inspiration, getting so caught up in confecting jewel-like 1960s-psych-garage songs about love and its aftermath that his girlfriends inevitably get steamed and leave, providing yet more material for rueful romanticism. You’d have to feel sorry for the guy if he didn’t, fairly consistently, come up with the prettiest, sweetest, smartest DIY psych on the market.

Double Exposure, recorded at home, literally in Stoltz’s garage, is one of the artist’s best albums yet. It’s a dense, multi-layered work, glowing with reverb and fat with textures that spread all the way to the margins. Most of the tracks have a full rock band’s worth of instruments, at least one and often two or three guitar parts, a bubbly Motown-through-gauze bass, a thrift shop’s worth of synths and keyboards, drums and Stoltz’s vocals, often self-doubled or harmonized. It must have taken forever to record, with Stoltz doing everything, painstakingly, layer by layer.

And, yet, while I say “painstaking,” there is very little pain here. Given the multiplicity of sounds, it is remarkable how easily these tracks flow. “Kim Chee” has almost as many guitar textures as a Sonic Youth track, some high and tremulous harmonics, others more conventional riff and jangle, all shot through with other sounds, bass, drums, a couple of different keyboards. And still, with all this going on, the sound has a dream-like purity, a lovely slack offhanded-ness.

The lyrics on Double Exposure are quite good, too, as they balance the concrete and the surreal. In “Marcy,” we get a sharp, fleeting picture of a specific girl, as Stoltz sings, “You just cast your little spell, rang a bicycle bell passing through.” Yet Stoltz, as always, seems about as fascinated with the music buzzing through his brain as with any flesh and blood female passers by. He litters his lyrics with musical references – a romantic interest in “Down By the Sea” is “a little bit Stevie, a little bit Christine,” while “the Spaceman or the Sonic Boom” spin on repeat in the lyrics of elegiac “Summertime.” He admonishes himself to get some air in “In My Head,” the album’s longest track at just over nine minutes, yet is clearly loathe to leave its hypnotic world, which filters Krautish drone and repetition through a 1960s pop lens.

You can get lost in the particulars of these songs, the striking lines, the unexpected twists of melody, the little guitar licks and bass vamps that lurk, almost obscured, in its fuzzy, echoey mix. But really, it’s the way all these elements work together that’s important, the way that a lot of sweated-over details turn into buoyant ease in the finished product. Double Exposure is both a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and a daydream. It’s an intricate, carefully crafted set of songs that blows by in a warm breeze. Kelley Stoltz is as good as he’s ever been in this album, and that is very good, indeed.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Kelley Stoltz

Below The Branches

Circular Sounds

To Dreamers

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