When Kelley Stoltz made the jump to Castle Face with his 2015 album, In Triangle Time, he got weird. Or maybe he already was. Either way, something about the way time and space coincided meant that Stoltz made the loosest, oddest record of his long, mostly buttoned-down career as a pop craftsman. He added synths, played around with structure, and made choices he may not have in the past. For his next album on the label, 2017's Que Aura, Stoltz took another leap, this time a deeper dive into the sounds of his beloved '80s. Long an Echo & the Bunnymen fan to the point where he recorded his own version of Crocodiles, their debut album, Stoltz actually joined the Bunnymen as their touring second guitarist. This gig seems to have unleashed something within Stoltz, and along with his trademark '60s-inspired shaggy pop, there are side trips into space rock, warped synth pop, epic Echo-y psych, and even some off-kilter disco. Through it all, Stoltz's way with a hook means that no matter what sounds he dresses the songs in, they are always one sharp hook away from slicing up the speakers. Slick, keyboard-heavy tracks ("Feather Falling") and insistent synth-driven songs ("Same Pattern") sound just as good as the jumpy rockers ("I'm Here for Now") and oddball pop tunes ("Walking Against the Greenlight"), and even the total left turn, the slinky disco number ("Empty Kicks") ends up sounding really good (and a little like the Grateful Dead's "Shakedown Street"). Stoltz has always been a first-rate arranger and producer, but with his last couple records he really seems to have hit his stride. Que Aura is the richest, most diverse, and interesting-sounding album he's done yet, with the songs to match. It might be easy to overlook someone who's been making solid music for as long as Stoltz has, to maybe take him for granted a bit, but doing that would be a mistake and one would miss some truly fun, weird, and inspired modern pop.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra