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No longer Australia's best kept secret, Angus and Julia Stone have been releasing indulging combinations of indie, blues, and folk tunes since 2007's A Book Like This . The duo, a brother and sister pairing, are known for their agreeable harmonies and distinctive vocal styles. Angus, with his nonchalant high register plays perfectly off of Julia's seemingly dreamy and oft romanticized vocal offerings. With both brother and sister both off and well into successful solo careers fans will be pleased to know that Angus and Julia Stone is a peachy keen return to form, albeit a bit more produced and polished.
Although decisively less folk or acoustic than either A Book Like This or Down the Way, Angus and Julia Stone is flattering in and of itself as an album that still comes across as genuine in both emotion and appeal. Producer Rick Rubin's presence is immediately felt on the first track "A Heartbreak," an exceptionally produced drum based track that recants anecdotal failed relations that no doubt tie into Angus and Julia's personal lives (their parents divorced when Angus and Julia were young teenagers and were also a musical duo). A particularly simplistic guitar solo around the 3 minute mark adds to the intimate loneliness without being overtly expansive and complicated. The song, dual vocal tracked by both Angus and Julia comes across as one entity that really speaks to the cohesiveness of the two. I really haven't sensed the ethos of a duo this profound save for Joy Williams and John Paul White of The Civil Wars who are sadly no longer together.
The reasons Angus and Julia split from working together in the first place is still nebulous at best. According to Julia it was Rubin who approached the duo and with some coaxing Angus was brought back in. With that in mind a track like "Other Things," arguably the weakest track, can lyrically take on new meaning. "There's other things on my mind," "I'll see ya later" sings Angus repeatedly and the borderline passive aggressiveness is volcanically brooding. One can't help but feel there's still a subtle undertow of forced solidarity between the two and we may never know why. Conviction breeds expressive creativity however and Angus and Julia Stone offer it in bunches.
"I've never worked with anyone like them." -Rick Rubin
Rick Rubin produced, and therefore just a bit more expansive, tracks like "A Heartbreak" and "Grizzly Bear" are both more alternative sounding and are meant to entice a bigger audience to a duo that really hasn't gained the fanbase they deserve outside of Australian and European hot spots. While purists may have trouble with some of the new direction, the track that you expect to come along and compromise the artistic integrity of the duo never really appears. The aforementioned "Grizzly Bear" is a bluesy affair with an opportunistic Angus reveling in the low light of an assumed beautiful woman's aura. The answer of who is the "Grizzly Bear" is left to the imagination of the listener and the lyrics offer an inquisitive look into the possibility of assumed relations. The sexual tension is ever ubiquitous in this record, with outside corners painted and the fine bristle brush left in your lap. "Get Home" is an absolute long walk of a gem, with Angus recollecting thoughts and wishes of a relationship that is beyond distant shores. If "long distance" is more than two words for you you'll find a fond spot for this one. "Death Defying Acts" is Julia at her best, vocally in twined amongst a despondent guitar track. "I'm Everything I've ever been, I'm everything and I'm nothing at all," in what is the album's rawest track. Again Rubin's presence is felt but it's merely a catalyst of talent and not the coming attraction.
As glistening as Angus and Julia Stone can be it's not without it's flaws. "Main Street," being the primary. The track forgoes the abstract canvas as Julia is much too forward in her vocal offering, "my bones are aching for yours, you rode me on your bicycle down main street". It's too close to Americana 101 as a track and one I found myself consciously skipping. Luckily what follows is "Crash and Burn" a large brush stroke at nearly seven minutes in length and their second longest song to date. Sweeping folk arrangements peak and valley in a plethora of longing for lyrics led by Angus as the album winds down beautifully and you're left pondering the beautiful ambivalence of the album, so much so that you'll be inclined to return to it.