Monday, August 4, 2014

Musical Monday: Angus & Julia Stone Album Review

Rocking mellow with an edge.
That's how I'd describe the latest album from sibling duo Angus & Julia Stone. The self-titled album, which came out Friday August 1, is their third release together after taking a hiatus to pursue solo careers following their sophomore Down the Way.  While they are both solid artists in their own right, when they combine their sibling powers, their music goes to a whole-nother level.

So you can get a feel for it, here's the album preview on Soundcloud:

In this album, they take what's always been their strengths: dual-vocals singing emotionally charged lyrics, from both the male & female perspective, but their sound has matured and evolved in a more dramatic way.  In other words, they've grown up. It's like after your much younger cousin who was always a precious kid goes off to college for a few years and you realize the next time you see them they've become a fully-realized person. The break, exploring their own sounds through solo careers, and the reunion, based on the insistence of producer Rick Rubin, turned the sweet sibling indie act into a musical powerhouse.

They open strong with the rocking "A Heartbreak" and the statement "I met your parents, they were lying about falling in love" which sets the tone for the wry, insightful and usually cynical realism which is prevalent throughout the album. In most of the songs, they both adapt a speak/singing that gives them a disaffected too-cool-for-school delivery.  Julia leads "My Word For It" almost entirely in spokensong, with a sleepy sexuality she developed in the years since Down the Way. In this new sound, they play around a bit with being slightly out of tune/tempo, but in a way that showcases their mastery of the genre, while hearkening back to other singer/songwriter folk acts of the past and putting them in a league with the best of the present.

After "A Heartbreak" the highlight of the front half is "Heart Beats Slow" when their off-tempo, almost off-key voices blend together. They're at their best when the achingly earnest emotion highlights the feeling of love lost, love thrown-away, love yearned for. The second half of the album slows quite a bit after Julia's "Death Defying Acts," an anti-love song. The cleverly minimal "Other Things" takes the moment before a fight and in the way it never develops musically beyond the introduction created the tired here-we-go-again familiarity of well-worn arguments between intimates (whether family or lovers).

Where A Book Like This was somewhat minimal in the instrumentalization, and Down the Way added a depth of sound, Angus & Julia Stone has an edge and polished sheen that wasn't quite there before, it leans a little more rock on the scale of indie pop/rock. Additionally, in their past work they penned their songs separately, where in this album they co-wrote the songs for the first time, which plays off by melodies and lyrics playing to both their strengths.

If you get this album, you have to buy the Deluxe Edition as my personal favorite track is actually one of the three bonus tracks.  "All this Love" stands in sharp contrast to most of the album, in that it is a complete 180 from the cynical realism permeating most of the tracks and is simply a happy, uplifting, feel-good track, reminding us listeners that "there's all this love if you need it." Call me a sucker for earnest, sugary-sweet joy but I had this one all repeat all weekend.

Got the album? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below or on twitter: @itzbizr

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