Thursday, 31 July 2014

Album Review - Angus and Julia Stone

by Angus and Julia Stone (out August 1, 2014)

It's been over four years since Angus and Julia Stone have released an album together. You might have heard of it. It went by the name of Down the Way and topped the Australian charts and walked away with Album of the Year honours at the ARIA Awards after spawning the triple J Hottest 100 #1, 'Big Jet Plane'. Yeah, you might have heard of it. The genetically-blessed siblings would each embark on a solo journey, before being brought back together by some dude named Rick Rubin. Whoever that is. Ok, so getting a call from a guy that's contributed production wise for artists like Justin Timberlake, Adele, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jay-Z and Sir Mix-A-Lot (I know, right?) would have to be the highlight of your life. So you're Angus or Julia Stone and your phone rings and you're all like, "international number... this had better not be a telemarketer!" And then Rick Rubin's all like, "hey, make an album together pretty please, say yes, pleeeeease!" And you're all like, "ok, Rick Rubin." Because you're Angus or Julia Stone, remember?

It's fitting that the Stones went the self-titled route with studio album number three. Angus and Julia Stone sees the brother-sister duo collaborating as co-writers for the first time, making these songs a true representation of what Angus AND Julia Stone can deliver together as music makers. What they can deliver is pretty much awesome as, for the most part, they're proving that old saying that's like, alone they are pretty great, but together they're totally awesome. Which might have been an old X-Men tagline (better worded of course), but let's go with it. Angus and Julia Stone is our first truly cohesive collection of tracks from the pair and combined with Rubin's (the guy that worked with Sir Mix-A-Lot) production skills, the family Stone have never sounded better. For my beautiful friends that have mislabeled the wonderful music these two make as 'Aussie bore-folk' (you loveable jerks), I hope you'll be reconsidering your stance after giving this one a go.

"I met your parents they were lying, about falling in love. I met your parents they were dying, but falling in love." We open with the current single, 'A Heartbreak', a song that lives up to the title with its honest look at the way the young view that crazy little thing called love. The light bluesy touches in the guitar will have your head nodding along, with the toes tapping in time with the drums. Julia's sweet tones against Angus' reserved delivery work here in a way that goes against your standard sibling vocal arrangements. The natural harmonies aren't as prevalent as they usually would be, but there's something about the way their voices sit together that makes you melt just a little bit. Or a lot. Whatever. You don't know me. Julia takes the lead on 'My Word For It', grabbing that bluesy vibe from the opener and running with it. The roles are reversed for 'Grizzly Bear', with Angus coming to the forefront on a track you feel like you already knew was recorded in Malibu. Surf's up, man... in a nice and folky way.  It's not an earth-shattering opening run, but a welcome re-introduction to the sounds of Angus and Julia Stone.

A powerful shift comes with the arrival of 'Heart Beats Slow'. A track that wins you over more and more with each repeated listen, 'Heart Beats Slow' reminds us why Angus and Julia Stone are now one of the most celebrated and loved acts in Australian music. That rolling beat, the breezy vibe that surprises you in the way it can leave you a little out of breath and the voices of Angus and Julia weaving around each other in such a memorable way. It's hard not to think of this showing up in many lists celebrating the best songs of 2014. The lyrics are perfectly simple, but carry a weight with them that only works for an act like this. 'Wherever You Are' is the perfect follow-up, a song you can call lovely without feeling gross. Because it is. Lovely, not gross. Try not to get too lost in a line like, "And we're like the kids from Candy, kissing in the grocery store," because you'll be listening to this ballad thinking that the characters in the story are junkies. Candy is amazing for anyone that hasn't read the book or seen the movie. Back to A and J, 'Wherever You Are' is the sweetest little ballad you won't be able to get enough of and this one's got those more natural, swoon-worthy sibling harmonies to boot. 

If you were to ask me to pick a song out of the bunch that would be the 'coolest of the cool', I would send you in the direction of 'Death Defying Acts'. This is Julia's time to shine and she turns in a performance that borders on theatrical, that is a sneaky kind of sexy and has just a hint of danger bubbling under the vocal performance. "I will perform a death defying magic show, for those of you who wanna go some place else, I am brave but I can't save you, from the things you won't change for yourself." Spine-tingling goodness right here, boys and girls. Step right up! My love for 'Death Defying Acts' didn't exactly extend to 'Other Things', a song that felt a little out of place. The delivery was just a little too deadpan, the out of tune twangs not as endearing to the ears as what had come before. It's a tough one, because it's in no way "bad", but it felt like a momentary interruption on this journey I was being taken on. Repeated lines about putting the cat outside and seeing you later (tomorrow) kept me from getting into it, though I tried. A momentary setback, as I fell straight back into the Stone's world on 'Please You', a warm and welcoming ballad performed by Angus.

'Main Street' and 'Crash and Burn' move back into bluesy guitar-driven territory, with the latter stepping in a more alt-country direction. It's 'Crash and Burn' that I keep going back to, its slow beginning making way for a suitably epic finish and a killer instrumental segment that comes across like a perfect homage to Neil Young. Keep on rocking in the free world, Angus! An unexpected end to the album, but really, you should expect to be surprised quite a bit by Angus and Julia Stone. They're trying new things, exploring new sounds and learning what it is to actually be a musical partnership. While Angus and Julia Stone is great, it's not without a rocky patch here and there. Even Rick Rubin isn't perfect. Did you know Sir Mix-A-Lot made more than one album? Rick Rubin sure does. But Rick Rubin has also been part of seven Grammy Album of the Year winners. If or when Angus and Julia Stone choose to team up again, I think we'll be moving closer into the perfection zone. 

Matt Bond gives Angus and Julia Stone three and a half Michael Hutchence heads out of five... 

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