Below the Branches
This San Francisco–based singer- songwriter emerged from home-recording obscurity a few years ago with a self- released album that won rave reviews from magazines in England, a country whose rock press rewards anyone who's put their knowledge of more than one Flying Burrito Brothers record into action. The U.K. attention helped Kelley Stoltz nab a contract with Sub Pop; Below the Branches is his big indie-label debut. (In the MySpace age, the indie-label debut is the new major-label debut.) Branches is enjoyable enough. Stoltz sings in the standard-issue indie-guy whine that speaks of the psychic exhaustion produced by pulling too many espressos for too many years, but he doesn't make a big deal out of it, so he avoids exhausting you in the process. "I heard so many words today," he sings in the pretty, piano-laced "Words," "I don't know what there's left to say"; that lyric goes a long way toward explaining the lack of pretense in Stoltz's music. And for a one-man-band type, he rarely lets his taste for arrangements get in the way of his knack for a tune. There's a lo-fi cleanliness to the music that's refreshing in the midst of so many post–Elephant 6 busybodies. Branches probably won't light any fires among people who don't get their records for free, but that doesn't seem to be Stoltz's goal. "Find a thing that makes you happy," he sings in "Wave Goodbye." Mission accomplished. MIKAEL WOOD
Kelley Stoltz plays with John Vanderslice and Crystal Skulls at Neumo's, 925 E. Pike St., 206-709-9467, www.neumos.com. $10 adv. 8 p.m. Fri., April 7.
Roll Deep Presents Grimey Vol. 1
Jah knows what it'll take for grime to blow up stateside. Regime change? Couple more elements? A Wylie-produced Gwen Stefani track with a Lady Sovereign cameo and remixes featuring the future Dalai Lama, Louise Brooks, and Yoda? Or, maybe, just a few more years; after all, grime is young and still made almost exclusively in East London by Jamaican immigrants and their progeny. Plus, U.K. garage's harder, faster offspring is the product of a pirate radio network and recalcitrant rave culture with no real counterparts here. Grime hasn't even completely penetrated its native country's mainstream yet, although it has made definite gains—Dizzee Rascal's "I Luv U," for instance, which is one of Roll Deep Presents Grimey Vol. 1's high points. Raw power aside, what makes the rapper and producer's 2002 single, recorded when he was 16, stand out on this capsule history disguised as a mix disc is subject matter. The track is one of few to eschew the usual topics—crew and genre loyalty, skills, girls, weed—in favor of nasty, real-life issues (in this case, teenage pregnancy). Donae'o kills two birds with one song on "My Philosophy (Bounce)," marrying anti-crack and -gun messages with serious discussions of weed, girls, and, well, bouncing. "Bounce-bababa-bounce widit," he sings, his vocal riddim skipping against the beat with a shamanistic physicality that suggests what crunk might feel like with a few dozen extra beats per minute and way more syncopation. Ah, youth! ROD SMITH
In addition to possessing one of music's greatest names, Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay is the rare indie-rock songwriter who can do sarcastic and sensitive at the same time; for more sophisticated talents, you'd have to look to Stephen Malkmus or Stephin Merritt. A few years ago Barzelay moved from Brooklyn to Nashville, which had a nice mellowing effect on Clem Snide's material. Now you can hear the relocation reflected in Bitter Honey, Barzelay's first solo disc, where stripped-down folk-pop with a rootsy twang underpins Barzelay's typically appealing wordplay. Occasionally, this approaches Music Row standards, as in the opening line from "I Wasn't Really Drunk": "You look so pretty when you have been drinking." Sad? Funny? Or both? (Speaking of Music Row, if the money ever runs out from the use of Clem Snide's "Moment in the Sun" as the theme song to the defunct NBC sitcom Ed—and if he doesn't foolishly believe himself to be above it—Barzelay should consider a Nashville ghostwriting gig, if he hasn't already started looking for one.) In "Thanksgiving Ways," Barzelay gets a little more serious, wondering if our current war will ever end. But even there he's got a lightness of touch that, ironically, gives his observations real weight. MIKAEL WOOD
Eef Barzelay plays with Tim Seely and J. Tillman at Crocodile Cafe, 2220 Second Ave., 206-441-5611, www.thecrocodile.com. $10 adv. 9 p.m. Thurs., April 6.