CD Review of Below the Branches by Kelley Stoltz

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Below the Branches
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Sub Pop
Released: 2006
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There’s something charming about Stoltz’ way of producing. It’s low-fi/DIY kind of stuff, but it feels oddly complete. This is especially true on his fourth full-length release, Below the Branches, where he adds piano to his already-refined indie rock sound with good results.

“Wave Goodbye” opens the disc and with lyrics like, “find a thing that makes you happy / find a thing that gets you high / pack your worries in a suitcase / send them off and wave goodbye,” it is clearly meant to inspire. The chugging piano keeps the song moving like a determined steam train. A Beatles influence can be felt on the “Memory Collector,” which is by far the most infectious song on the album. It features a repeating piano riff with accompanying strings that could have been written by Paul McCartney – so much so that the song wouldn’t sound out of place on the back half of Abbey Road.

In fact, throughout the album it seems like Stoltz is working through his own influences. For example, Nick Drake would be proud of “Mystery,” a wistful ballad with a little triangle (which could be the next cowbell) and a drum crescendo thrown in. The piano takes a back seat on “The Sun Comes Through,” which is part psychedelic and part pop with some gritty guitar added for good measure.

Below the Branches isn’t awe-inspiring or mind-blowing, but it’s capable, efficient, dreamy and most of all, fun. Stoltz seems content in his exploration of his influences, and we should be content to enjoy the ride.

~John Paulsen