Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

cover art

Kelley Stoltz

The Past Was Faster


In America’s mad, list-crazy rush to name the greatest invention of the Millennium, nobody mentioned the home 4-track recorder. It’s not too surprising, really; faced with the more immediate benefits of the printing press, the automobile and the meat dehydrator, a battered old Fostex pales to insignificance. But as far as the last 25 years of musical evolution are concerned, the availability of inexpensive multi-track recorders is a metaphorical opposable thumb.

The Past Was Faster supports this assertion perfectly. It’s Stoltz’s first album, the product of more than five years of songwriting and bedroom recording experiments. Though the original tapes were given a slight polish (and a few extra bass lines) by producer Monte Vallier (Swell), the album retains the warmth, intimacy and spirit of a home recording.

It’s obvious that Stoltz bought plenty of records in the ‘80s. “X-Ray Eyes” features a driving rhythm and jangly melody that’ll hook anyone who ever enjoyed a Mighty Lemon Drops song, and “Cardinal Body” recalls the Chills with its complex, xylophone-enhanced tune and simple, repetitive lyrics. There’s a little bit of Flaming Lips lurking in the shy psychedelia of “The Captain,” and elements of early New Order, Wire and Galaxie 500 in “Emerald Stew” and “Peppermint”. And throughout, admitted Bunnymen fan Stoltz turns in credibly robust, McCullochy vocals, pausing for a confident strut through Waits country on “The Fog has Lifted”. But don’t misunderstand—though it’s easy to spot Stoltz’s influences, he doesn’t indulge in wholesale stylistic pillaging. Tiny, recognizable elements peek out, like a familiar image in the midst of a collage, drawing you further into a more intimate relationship with the whole.

There are elements that won’t work for everyone. Stoltz’s lyrics favor rhythmically effective phrases over narrative storytelling, and are occasionally rather clumsy; if you’re looking for universal truths or literary wonders, look elsewhere. More annoyingly, a couple of solid songs are stashed in “hidden track” turf, and they receive a poor lead-in from the somnolent “Lonely Star State”.

If you think these are minor quibbles, you’re right. The Past Was Faster is a triumph of home recording, and it deserves an adoring audience who’ll embrace it, flaws and all. It’s a good enough advertisement for D.I.Y. creativity that next time you go down to the appliance store to buy a printing press or an air conditioner, you might catch yourself considering a 4-track instead.


Tagged as: kelley stoltz
Related Articles
2 Oct 2013
Stoltz's great new album Double Exposure is all about taking stock, about what independence means, about how to bridge the gap between inner life and the life around you.
17 Nov 2010
This batch of lo-fi home recordings is Stoltz's best effort to date because it perfectly fits the image his fans have had of him all along: A music lover holed up in his bedroom, knee-deep in a pile of instruments, smiling back at posters of Ray Davies and David Bowie.
4 Mar 2008
Stoltz cures hangovers with the sounds you haven't forgotten.
By PopMatters Staff
23 Dec 2006
At long last, the annual rite of passage, the "best of" list... Here's PopMatters picks for the best 60 records of 2006.
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

© 1999-2015 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.