Album: Kelley Stoltz, Circular Sounds (Sub Pop)

Andy Gill
Friday 15 February 2008 01:00 GMT

Kelley Stoltz is the American equivalent of British psychedelic eccentrics like Kevin Ayers, Robin Hitchcock and Syd Barrett – and, as this release shows, he's grown into the role well since his debut Antique Glow appeared in 2001. It's full of warm textures, weirdness and a whimsicality that colours the darker lyrical themes in rainbow musical tones and honeyed harmonies. As usual, Stoltz plays most of the instruments himself, so the music has that thick, saturated sound common to one-man bedroom bands, but he's clearly learnt how to balance the parts in a way that prevents things getting too claustrophobic.

It allows him to pull off some impressive sonic balancing acts, such as the way the dissonant pipe sounds of "Everything Begins" are held in check by the piano riff, and the precarious equilibrium of the acoustic guitar and tack piano in "Something More". Stoltz sometimes veers perilously close to pastiche, as with the Velvets chug-thrash that powers "The Birmingham Eccentric", but he knows how to disguise the references in sly combinations; the main guitar riff and harmonica of "To Speak to the Girl" may come straight from the young Stones, but that counterpart guitar line snaking over the top is from the surf-guitar standard "Pipeline" – strange bedfellows making unexpectedly beautiful noise together.

Click the arrow to listen to a clip of Kelley Stoltz's track 'Your Reverie'.

And when the influences are as charmingly effected as the Lovin' Spoonful-esque "Put My Troubles to Sleep", what's not to love? It even comes with the kind of knowingly naive lyric that could have slipped from the John Sebastian songbook: "There ain't no rhyme, there ain't no reason/ Why you are free, and I am freezin'?" Elsewhere, "Your Reverie" essays the classic Sixties British R&B style, with trenchant organ surging behind the guitar riff, while "I Nearly Lost My Mind" follows the kind of oddball routes favoured by Barrett, albeit tempered by misgivings and warning that "you must be careful if you say that you want it".

Madness is a theme, but not obsessively so. "Mother Nature" and "Morning Sun" are winsome bucolic reflections; "When You Forget" offers advice on surmounting a soured relationship ("You've got to find out all over again/ And climb up the mountain again/ When you forget"), while "Gardenia" features a droning tamboura line behind Stoltz's musings upon flowers, superpowers and admiration from afar. There's barely a weak cut among the 14 tracks on an album that confirms Stoltz's development into a serious talent.

Download this: 'Your Reverie', 'Put My Troubles to Sleep', 'To Speak to the Girl', 'Gardenia', 'Reflecting', 'Everything Begins'

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