Album Reviews

Kelley Stoltz – Circular Sounds

(Sub Pop) UK release date: 11 February 2008

Kelley Stoltz resides in San Fransisco but, on hearing his fourth album Circular Sounds, the casual listener would be forgiven for assuming he was an English ’60s pop rock act – the sort now saddled with the badge “classic rock” which, back in the day, defined pop.

Ray Davies is to the fore throughout, but there’s a smattering of The Beatles and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd also helping to colour in Stoltz’s Anglostalgia. I Nearly Lost My Mind even features the line “up in the north of England”, and it’s fitting that Stoltz’s home town should be Birmingham… Michigan.

None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who’s heard Stoltz’s album Crock-O-Dials, a track by track cover of Echo And The Bunnymen‘s Crocodiles made at home on his 8-track tape recorder. Since his 1999 debut, Stoltz has unashamedly looked to the past for his inspirations and, while Circular Sounds is comprised of his own songs, it’s in the past that he stays.

None of this detracts from the record’s casual, off-the-cuff pop charm. Rarely does Stoltz surprise, yet his creations are almost always hummable. He even throws in some Beach Boysy whoo-hoos and ba-ba-ba-baas. As a result, from beginning to end Circular Sounds feels familiar. And with only one track (just) over four minutes, Stoltz holds true to pop convention in length as well as arrangements.

Various guitars, wurlitzer and piano dominate instrumentation that makes for arrangements far fuller than expected from a solo artist recording at home. I Nearly Lost My Mind is as big as the sound gets, a spazzed-out vocal line echoing over jaw harp and Beatlesesque guitar. Reflecting finds him happy to indulge in a spot of instrumental too.

Put My Troubles To Sleep’s wailing guitars and Gardenia’s double-tracked vocals provide the most obvious Floyd moments. Mother Nature’s shimmery guitar and recorders hark back to The Beatles’ arrangements. Morning Sun takes its cue from somewhere else again, beginning with exactly the chords and rhythm of Belle & Sebastian‘s Expectations before heading off in a more noticeably Seattle direction, with sun-drenched stoner vocals.

Circling back to where we started with the shambling rhythm and shimmery guitar of You Alone, Circular Sounds adds up to an inoffensive strum through times gone by. As The Beatles split up long ago, Barrett is no more and Davies becomes a tribute act unto himself, Stoltz should have little difficulty in expanding his fanbase.

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More on Kelley Stoltz
Kelley Stoltz – To Dreamers
Kelley Stoltz – Circular Sounds
Kelley Stoltz – Crock-O-Dials