PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Kelley Stoltz: Double Exposure

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.

Kelley Stoltz

Double Exposure

US Release: 2013-09-24
UK Release: 2013-09-23
Label: Third Man Records

San Francisco mid-fi rocker Kelley Stoltz has spent a long time writing solid pop songs that often get dismissed for resting too much on the past. The '60s rock vibe of his last album, To Dreamers, or the Brian Wilson nods on Below the Branches, overshadowed what were actually distinct and unique spins on old sounds. Stoltz gleefully bounces from instrument to instrument, making hazy layers of pop bliss, but he never loses sight of his own keening voice.

And, in focusing on his influences – as if he was the first musician to build his sound out of musical history – people often missed the boat with Kelley Stoltz. He's pressed on, continuing to make records of his own and with acts like Sonny & the Sunsets. Double Exposure, his latest record, is perhaps the best picture yet of Stoltz as a performer and songwriter. It also helps that this is his best batch of songs to date. The hooks are just that much tighter, the fidelity smooth but not too clean. His singing is bittersweet and hazy, and the textures in these tracks are rippling and resonant.

Part of the independence of this record may come from circumstance. For one, he's no longer with Sub Pop after three records, and is now on the distinctly artist-minded Third Man. Secondly, he's built his own studio in, yes, his garage. And, on top of all that, in the three years since To Dreamers the every youthful sounding Stoltz turned 40.

This may all seem like straight-up bio sheet stuff, unrelated to the music, but Double Exposure is very much about taking stock, about what independence means, and about how to bridge the gap between the life in your head and the life in the landscape around you. "I've got some storms I'm going through," he belts out on jangly opener "Storms". He worries about going "through life alone," but this isn't lonesome pining necessarily, it's more an exploration of memory. He sings of numbers written on hands and the rain that might wash them away. "Remember how I sang of a thousand rainy days," he sings, both nodding to the thing we might remember him for and recognizing the futility of it, the temporary nature of all memory. Still, this isn't resigned so much as it is pressing forward, to the next memory, to the one after the storm, whether it sticks or not.

What keeps this from bogging down in woe-is-me isolation is that Stoltz is constantly in search on Double Exposure. On lean rocker "Are You My Love" he claims, "I've been holding the door" and wonders if the right person will come by. The echoed "Around Your Face" has him waiting for a light, even as that face in the title "tried to spit [him] out." Later in the record, the acoustic sweetness of "Marcy" is about the memory of a long-gone love and the spot on the street Stoltz still goes past to find that memory, that feeling, again and again. Even the absurdly titled "Kim Chee Taco Man" makes the titular figure a kind of marker of time, a thing that will come back around again. Throughout the record, we have repeated instances like this – returns, revolutions, nostalgia like a skipping record – but each return, for Stoltz, offers a chance to see it new, to reassess, maybe to leave it behind and move forward, maybe to hold out for that next go 'round.

The crux of the tension here is covered in the album's epic and excellent middle. The nine-minute "Inside My Head" is Stoltz at his most exciting and experimental. The song starts by worrying over being too locked in on your own thoughts, too closed off to the outside world. And the track around it, all throbbing keys and jagged guitars and countless other flourishes over a steady beat, starts off mimicking that kind of echo chamber. But as the song continues, that recoiling echo opens up, reaches out, and all of sudden we've shifted to the possibility of thought, to the moment where the wall between mind and outside world breaks down. It's both a striking hinge in the record and beautiful stand-alone moment in Stoltz’s career. It combines nicely with the equally great "Still Feel", which finds everyone around Stoltz moving away while he continues to mine his hometown for inspiration, or even definition, though he's clad in "hand me downs."

This notion of travelling without going anywhere, or progress without the appearance of progression is what drives Double Exposure and what makes it so lasting. Kelley Stoltz has not changed his approach here, necessarily, he is as he ever was as an artist. And yet this go 'round is more fruitful, more revealing, more himself than its predecessors. Which is not to say those weren't distinct, but Double Exposure is the sound of Kelley Stoltz growing that much more comfortable in his own skin. The album is a moment – an endlessly tuneful one, full of catchy songs – but like any moment it’s informed by what came before, by what might come next. Stoltz looks both ways here. And if you're just catching up to what he is doing, you might do the same.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.