Summer’s just around the corner, you know: although the skies may still be slated grey, pierced only by so-fleeting shards of sunlight, the air below clouds think and tall is warming. I know, because this morning at the bus stop I wasn’t shivering in my battered All Stars for the first time in three months. Okay, I was wearing different shoes, but a fact remains: as the weather warms, so too do one’s musical preferences. Whereas last week I’d play something icily atmospheric on the bus ride to my Tube station of choice, today’s selection of Kelley Stoltz was informed almost exclusively by the receding cold fronts. Below The Branches is, maybe, the first perfect summertime album, absolutely brimming with brightness and charm.
Although its heart beats to the slow strum of folk acts past, Below The Branches is as indebted to the pop-psychedelica of Pink Floyd as it is a bunch of weirdie beardies dancing naked about a fire: many a song is flecked by acid-hued splatters from invisible hands, moulded ever so slightly by powers that Stoltz can’t control. It is an album born of others, one that you’ll fall instantly in love with without wholly realising why. Is it because Stoltz sings with the vulnerability and apparent innocence of a child? Is it because of the recording quality, which seems to date from circa 1964? It is and it isn’t: everything that sounds new here most probably isn’t, and every echo of the past arrives reborn like a phoenix, fiery trails drawing lovehearts across a sky of cobalt. It’s delightful, put frankly.
Take, for example, ‘Ever Thought Of Coming Back’, the jaunty third track of thirteen. Your ears will tune themselves to the sound of old Beach Boys records, yet there’s something so very now about the song, too, that it seems entirely unique. The music might be superbly upbeat, but the words Stoltz allows to roll off his tongue, imperfect of pitch and rich in sincerity, are of loss, of the desire to patch up expanding holes. The title alludes perfectly to the nature of the void before him. Every so often Stoltz delivers an absolutely wondrous couple of lines, taking something from the everyday and making it superbly affecting. ‘Winter Girl’ contains the following lyrical brilliance from simplicity: “Don’t you let it stress ya / barometric pressure / it is just a measure / so use it at your leisure.” On paper it’s pre-teen poetry, but when Stoltz delivers the line to a loved one, one downbeat at the wintry environment about them, your heart melts like Easter egg chocolate left too close to a lamp.
‘Memory Collector’ is a sunny Beatles-like composition, but it’s ‘Birdies Singing’ that truly allows the sun’s rays to pour from this record, featuring as it does actual birdsong over a comparatively bass-heavy arrangement. It’s primitive garage rock given a refreshing spring clean, all “la la la la”s and a multitude of things that make ting-y noises. “If you could sing anything,” asks our protagonist, “what would you sing?”
Kelley, mate, I’ll sing your praises ‘til June lifts the gloom from the world outside your latest album. I’ll be keeping one headphone in throughout, though, just in case the showers only break come August.
8Mike Diver's Score