Album Review: Angus and Julia Stone – Angus and Julia Stone

By on Friday, 1st August 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Australian brother and sister Angus and Julia Stone have reunited in the studio for their third duo album, titled simply ‘Angus and Julia Stone’. The pair had gone their separate ways after touring their previous album, 2011’s ‘Down The Way’, each delivering a solo project the following year. They were brought back together by California producer Rick Rubin, whose magic touch has recently been felt on recordings by Ed Sheeran (‘X’) and Jake Bugg (‘Shangri-La’).

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is at once more expansive and more cohesive than the siblings’ past records together. The aforementioned ‘Down the Way’ was a large step in this direction, well beyond the purely acoustic folk sound of 2007’s ‘A Book Like This’. Though both previous albums contained California-themed titles, Angus’ songs in particular on ‘Down the Way’ began to explore the warm, mellow West Coast sound, while Julia expanded into thicker and more dramatic instrumentation. Where the two previous albums were studies in contrast between the two Stones — Julia’s raw, taut emotionality and Angus’ laidback, almost sullen drawl — the new self-titled album uses a heavy dose of blues groove to meld their distinct styles into a unified sound.

Rather than strictly alternating lead vocals, the best songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ intertwine the two voices in clever ways. I must admit here that I’ve never particularly cared for Julia Stone’s singing voice; it’s precisely the kind of overaffected little girl whine that usually begins to grate on my nerves after one or two songs. But she sounds remarkably lovely when her voice is layered with Angus’ brooding declamatory style, and the assortment of vocal combinations on this album, varying between straight harmonies and back-and-forth duets, display that feature to its fullest advantage.

The double-tracked vocals throughout opening track ‘A Heartbreak’ make a very definite statement about the collaborative nature of the album as a whole. The song’s first lyrics are an immediate grab for attention: “I met your parents, they were lying about falling in love”, and the rest of the songs continue in that verbally strident vein, softened by the easy blend of the Stones’ voices.

On standout track ‘Heart Beats Slow’, the vocal back and forth is matched up with a bright keyboard melody and lively rhythm over a mellow bass groove. The chorus conjures imagery of the fast-paced L.A. scene in its lyrics, “You say I move so fast that you can hardly see / You say I move so fast, how could you be with me? / But my heart beats slow.” The lovelorn duet ‘Wherever You Are’ and the off-kilter ‘Other Things’ feature the same kind of vocal interchange over a sparser acoustic backdrop.

Individually, each sibling takes the opportunity to stretch his/her own musical style. Angus delves deep into a steamy blues groove on ‘Grizzly Bear’, with Julia doubling on the seductive chorus, “Can I take you home? / We can go anywhere you wanna go.” (Check out a recent live version of ‘Grizzly Bear’ below.) Julia’s impressive lead vocal on ‘Death Defying Acts’ starts out slow, then takes a sultry turn before the song evolves into its hypnotic close.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/FapzvjVU6SM[/youtube]

The album proper ends with the slow, surly vocals and extended blues guitar riff of ‘Crash and Burn.’ The deluxe version of the album might be worth shelling out a few extra pennies, if only for the rhythmically spellbinding and harmonically intoxicating bonus track ‘Roses’.

The songs on ‘Angus and Julia Stone’ are still recognizable as the intimate folk pop that fans of the sibling pair have always loved, but with a few added layers of musicality. Lyrically, there are moments of poetic brilliance among the pair’s typical repetitive and mesmerizing choruses. Rick Rubin’s subtle production flourishes spike the overall flavor with blues and shimmering psychedelia, which fuses the Stones’ individual styles together and provides a fresh sonic foundation for their songs to grow from.

8.5/10

‘Angus and Julia Stone’ is due for release on the 4th of August on Virgin EMI Records. Angus and Julia Stone are back together on stage as well; you can find their upcoming UK tour dates here.

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