Take a Deep Breath
Here’s the thing about middle of the road pop music (although it’s debatable whether Que Aura qualifies as pop music, but the ability for the album to exist as mood music in the background – the hooks being the main selling point of most of the songs – speaks for itself). Imagine having to think critically about air. It’s not like one can criticize air. What are you gonna do, bash it for not tasting like chocolate? It does a very important job of inoffensively sustaining your lifestyle. How ungrateful and rude does that sound?! Those hydrogen and oxygen molecules worked really hard to bond together to create this medium, now breathe deeply and eat chocolate on your own time.
Needless to say, Que Aura by Kelley Stoltz is not necessarily chocolate.
If “Here For Now” came on the radio during a long drive, it would be welcome! It has a decidedly ’90s feel to it with its sunshine-y Elvis Costello guitars and cutesy chord choices it feels …simple. Not meant at all as an insult, it’s nice to think about a time where music didn’t have to be anything but pleasant. But as the warm, “Here For Now” turns to the less energetic and ultimately less successful “Tranquilo,” where nothing needs to stand out beyond the pleasant guitar strumming, it becomes clear that an entire album isn’t sustainable just on “oh, this song is cute! It reminds me of X and Y!”
Que Aura isn’t even monotonous in the most basic of the words meaning. Stoltz keeps it varied with his instrument choices, like the legato synth on “Feather Falling.” There’s just a certain contentment that carries through all the instruments on all the songs, feeling happy simply existing alongside all the other pleasant sounds. Take for example the synth solo at 1:10 on “Feather Falling” — it starts out with three notes repeated, and the notes picked from the dominant chord have a motion to them that works as a background voice, but when given the spotlight makes the song feel as if it could go somewhere, but it decides not to. And while that’s a defendable choice, it’s just not a memorable one.
Stoltz has a good ear for colors to base his songs off of; however, the “Same Pattern” synth is a great idea to play off of his deeply echo-y aesthetic. It’s probably the second most successful song on the album apart from “I’m Here For Now.” Same goes for the pitch-bend electro riff on “For You.” It’s an interesting color choice, as the synth gets cutely 8-bit at times, another variation to add to the successes of Que Aura. But mixed with this sort of loungey ’90s alternative just brings the overall product back down to not stand out as a whole.
By the time “Walking Against the Greenlight” comes on, it’s actually interesting to hear something even more minimal — just a plucky baseline and a mechanic drum beat for the first minute. It becomes fun to imagine oneself as Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, investigating some petty kink in his lawn, and the reminder kicks in that hey, it’s not personal, it’s music. All music has its place. Not all music needs to be Grimes or Death Grips and need the attention all on itself. Some stuff is fine to just pleasantly exist.