“Find a thing that makes you happy,” sings Kelley Stoltz, “find a thing that gets you high.” He may just be singing any old words on “Wave Goodbye,” the barroom piano stomper that opens his new record, Below the Branches, but to hear the energy and excitement in Kelley’s music, one could only assume that this ideal is the creed by which Stoltz adheres in his musical undertakings. Branches is nothing, if not happy…and maybe a little high.
“Wave Goodbye,” in all of its simple, innocent pleasures, sets the tone for the songs to follow, each one a kaleidoscopic wonder, pouring out Beach Boys harmonies and a Kinks-like sense of melody and arrangement. There are times when Stoltz comes strikingly close to mirroring moments on Something Else by the Kinks, though when he steers away from straightforward pop, the results are frequently ethereal and dreamlike. “Mystery” floats on a nebulous drone, punctuated by the slightest of guitar plucks and glockenspiel plinks. And the cascading piano of “Words” create a strange, melodic staircase, upon which Stoltz ascends, singing to his lady, “to love you is the highest high, higher than the highest high.” And the Hawaiian sounding slide guitar on “Summer’s Easy Feeling” creates a perfect sonic simulation of a summer breeze.
In spite of these patches of airy musings, Stoltz’s greatest strength is in his catchy, Beatlesque pop numbers, of which there are many on Below the Branches. “Wave Goodbye” is, certainly, one of the best, as is “Ever Thought of Coming Back,” a song sung either to Jesus or to a long lost love with a Spector-esque opening that transitions into a pop gem that comes closer to a Rubber Soul outtake. And in many of Stoltz’s peppiest numbers, that piano, pounding out eighth notes like a ball-peen metronome, is front and center. It’s right there on “Memory Collector,” backing Stoltz’s bluesy delivery, while on “Prank Calls,” it’s reduced to quarter notes, just slow enough to give the song more space.
And then comes “The Sun Comes Through.” Oh, Jesus, I don’t even know where to begin with this song. While a repeating, reverberating beat shuffles at the base of the song, an echoing, majestic piano melody, reminiscent of “A Day in The Life,” comes pouring in from the heavens, again, portraying in song (even before the words begin) such vibrant imagery. As the chords pound, you can almost see the rays shooting through the clouds, straight down to the earth. And yet Stoltz’s words “Hey now the sun comes through the window and it’s alright make a strangely powerful, yet simple statement, something like to the lo-fi indie rock fan’s own “all you need is love.”
It’s quite obvious that the thing that makes Kelley Stoltz happy is making music. You can hear it in his voice and in his song. His music is fun and it’s catchy, sure, but it’s much more than that. Kelley Stoltz has captured joy in song, and on Below the Branches, he has come up with 13 ways to share it with all of us.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.