From a walk through nearby Dumbarton Oaks on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Leica M, 50mm Noctilux.
Archive for September, 2013
Last week, S.F. garage janglers The Fresh & Onlys put out a six-song E.P., their first new music since the Long Slow Dance came out last year. Of course it took us a few days to get to it, given that we took Kelley Stoltz’s Double Exposure, some sandwiches and a jug of water down to the Situation Room, with its massive speakers and comfy couch, only to emerge days later with a smile and a few day’s growth on our face. The new Soothsayer E.P. is further evidence that The Fresh & Onlys deserve to be considered one of the Bay Area’s major league acts, able to hold up their end of the bargain — albeit in a quieter, less propulsive manner than stalwarts like Ty Segall* (whose L.P. with his metal thrashers, Fuzz, is out tomorrow), Thee Oh Sees, and of course Kelley.
But may we issue this hope? Tim Cohen’s principal “other” band is Magic Trick, and to our ears, nothing he’s done with The Fresh & Onlys is as good as Magic Trick’s astonishing Ruler of The Night, which also came out last year. If the pattern was set as one Fresh & Onlys album for every Magic Trick long player, then our expectation is that Magic Trick will now put out more music this year. After all, we know from correspondent reports that Magic Trick played a few weeks ago in San Francisco, even as The F & Ts were gearing up to tour with Tulip Frenzy faves Woods. And all you have to do is compare Magic Trick’s “Weird Memory” to anything by The Fresh & Onlys to grok why we’re rooting for that Tim Cohen project to get cracking.
* We don’t care whether Ty’s moved back to Southern California; he is, like Rice-a-roni, to be permanently associated with San Francisco.
Kelley Stoltz is so much more than the sum of his influences. But honestly, even if all he were was the sum of his influences, having such a sophisticated take on the songwriting of Ray Davies and Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney would make him A-OK in our book.
It’s when you consider the following that we actually start to wig out: he sings self-harmonies better than Steve Miller, he plays guitar like Dean Wareham’s long lost bro, and he does all this all by himself, not in a garage, but in what we imagine to be an antique-strewn atelier, a place of rare craftsmanship, like the last man on earth who can properly bind the books in which the secrets of rock’n’roll are kept, to be shared only with adepts. (Perhaps this is the moment to thank Jack White for the generosity and good taste that led him to release Kelley Stoltz on his Third Man label.)
And now on the long-awaited Double Exposure, which is his tenth record, but more important than that, a record which upon early listens seems at least the equal of his magnificent 2008 release, Circular Sounds, he still has the capacity to surprise. The title track is in a long line of exquisite Kelley Stoltz rockers; it could have easily been on 2010’s To Dreamers. But it’s perhaps the only song on the album that doesn’t seem like a departure; throughout, Kelley reveals himself to be more ambitiously setting a bigger sail for a farther port.
Showing the influence — yeah, another influence — of his San Francisco chum, John Dyer, whose Thee Oh Sees are worlds apart from, and yet completely aligned with, Stoltz’s sensibilities — a band made for sweating on stage, for levitating roofs, even as they have a melodic streak wide as the Bay Bridge — on the nine-minute long “Inside My Head,” Stoltz builds a coiling, motorik riff until it gets released with precisely the ambient sounds of Fripp & Eno’s Evening Star. Interestingly, that’s exactly what Thee Oh Sees did early this year on Floating Coffin‘s “Strawberries 1 + 2.” We’re guessing they had an Evening Star listening party. Or better yet, they didn’t have to.
Much has been made of the garage atmosphere in which so much of the great music that’s come out of the Bay Area lo these these past five years is steeped. And while Stoltz has far more in common with Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees than might be recognized by someone who isn’t a participant in that milieu, his channeling of the Kinks and the Beatles and Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson does set him apart from the simplistic deshabille implied by “garage rock.” Yet when you think of what that great pop craftsman Tim Presley is trying to accomplish with White Fence, what Tim Cohen is doing with Magic Trick (moreso than what he does with his other band, The Fresh and Onlys), Stoltz is revealed as both drinking from the same stream and replenishing it.
Want to see what all the fuss is about? Want the ticket in? Go listen to “Still Feel” from Double Exposure, which would seem to contain all of Kelley’s 10-album’s worth of accumulated charm in a single, six-minute goblet. Aficionados will grok to the considerably better sound quality than has heretofore been served up. Yes, even when Kelley Stoltz records have have been lower-fi than Tom Thumb they have always been Semper Fi with sonic gorgeousness. But this sounds as if, though he may be recording at home, someone’s rewired the place. He is clearly — true anecdote — no longer propping up the mike in his top drawer and leaning over to sing into it; someone — Jack White? — has at least bought him a mike stand.
If there were a Venn Diagram, and on the left side were all of the world’s elect who already know how great Kelley Stoltz albums are, and on the right side were all of Tulip Frenzy’s legions’o’fans, in the middle, clearly, would be the coolest cats in the land. Our abiding wish would be to move more of you on the right side leftward into the red hot middle. (We wouldn’t mind if some the folks on the left moved to right, too.) We consider it our civic duty to introduce more people to Kelley Stoltz’s music. Only time will tell if Double Exposure proves to be as great as Circular Sounds or Below The Branches. So far, just a few hours of non-stop playing in, we love it. We can’t imagine you’ll ever regret taking the plunge.