(Winedark Sound, digital)
Guthrie Galileo is a true crooner. Blessed with a hypermobile singing voice, the Bay Area transplant (whose real name is Guthrie Stoltzfus) is Vermont's answer to Justin Timberlake, vocally speaking. He flexes his upper register regularly as he floats through romantic, uplifting tunes.
Everything Stoltzfus creates is pure loveliness. His former house concerts series, the Nightshade Kitchen, and the summer music festival that grew out of it were peaceful and enriching. His last album, 3103, was a collection of eight Usher covers, which he dropped at the end of 2019 with nary a smirk or hint of irony.
In June, Stoltzfus released a four-song EP, Balladeer, just after a May cameo appearance on Vermont expat Orange Julians' sensational new album, Defender. Like all of his records, Balladeer is somewhat spiritually indebted to silky studs like Timberlake and Usher.
But an implicit holiness permeates the producer/singer-songwriter's canon, differentiating it from the horniness that dominates Top 40. His production is more varied, too, like that of indie darlings James Blake and Active Child. It's R&B, for sure, but derived from an atmospheric, reverent space as opposed to the club. Not that Balladeer doesn't bump.
Opener "Ethylene" — featuring Oakland, Calif., heartbreaker WHYF — is featherlight and brimming with optimism. (Titling a song with the chemical that ripens fruit and helps flowers bloom is on brand for the artist.) Backed by a propulsive beat and a beaded curtain of synth, Stoltzfus yearns for something beyond his grasp. He sings, "I'm scared to death that I might suffocate / if I leapt out of my fishbowl."
On "Little Universe," Stoltzfus asks, "Does he hold you? / Does he feel like home?" It's a love-triangle song, but one that doesn't follow the classic rules. Over muted guitars and a hefty bass hook, he tells Person A to look within to decide whether Person B is the one, rather than present himself as the obvious answer.
Stoltzfus becomes a harmonized choir on "Snow Pea," going full a cappella before gleaming synth, glossy piano and a rain shower sweep him away. His voice returns at the track's end, overlapping and interspersing hypnotic lyrics.
The EP closes with "Bittersweet Lane." It presses wordless, polyphonic background vocals against a syncopated beat and swashes of synth. The beat stiffens halfway through, conjuring a bit of dance-floor energy as a send-off.
Not to be greedy, but the only thing wrong with Balladeer is that, at just under 15 minutes, it's entirely too short. Stoltzfus' music is like a warm bath, one that you don't want to get out of until your fingers are well and truly pruned.
Balladeer is available at guthriegalileo.bandcamp.com.