On the crisp new Angus & Julia Stone, the Australian brother and sister combo whisper peaceful invitations to follow them to a secret garden party somewhere relaxing and comfortably numb. This album is built with tracks of hopeful sadness for lovesick dreamers, witchy women and nomad men, girls with a glint in their eye and boys on the edge. Vagabond hearts busy living, loving and learning life road-tripping from glory to disaster and back, accompanied by simmering, smooth-sailing driving music. This is a perfect record for very early mornings and very late nights.
Younger siblings to older sister Catherine, middle-kid Julia and baby-brother Angus were raised by folk-singer parents near Sydney, Australia. Angus began playing guitar as a teenager, then met up with Julia, who was traveling abroad in Bolivia. Soon they were strumming side-by-side in a jungle wonderland and work-shopping songs that led to contracts with international talent agencies. EP’s with cool titles such as Heart Full of Wine were followed by sold-out tours and a plethora of television and film music licensing.
“Death Defying Acts” is bold and menacing, like the score from a 1970’s thriller or crime drama. Julia’s vocals are beguiling and mysterious, soft and hard in the same breath. The alternately stinging and soothing guitar lines are a spaghetti-western soundtrack reborn on the Malibu bluffs.
“Little Whiskey” is one of the best tracks on the record. Angus plays the faded troubadour; heavy-headed from experience but wise, proud to have earned the keys to the highway. “My Word For It” is stubborn and playful like a purring cat. Julia’s range as a singer is limited, but she uses this to charming effect. Her dynamic intensity never escalates beyond casual brooding, as if she’s loved, lost and seen it all. Not completely jaded, but defiantly bittersweet.
“Grizzly Bear” wants to be a funky, Some Girls-era Rolling Stones groove, and it comes close. The instrumentation is sublime but the lyrics are distracting and leave something to be desired (“Yeah I like it when you smile – Won’t you stay with me, just for a little while?”). If only they’d spent another fifteen minutes with the pen and pad. The boozy synths and clipped electric guitar still make it a winner.
“Crash And Burn” is a languid procession of brooding, dirt-crusted twanging guitars. Casual, let-your-hair-down human release is brimming over the rim of “From The Stalls” and “Heart Beats Slow”. “A Heartbreak” and “Main Street” are lingering chimes of breakup catharsis. “Other Things” presents the vague mood Julia and Angus revel in and make a career of exploring. Happy and hopeful or heartbroken and fragile? Maybe always a little of both.
The true star of this record is the raw genius of producer Rick Rubin. You can clearly hear why he’s paid well for his skill set. He’s an enigmatic wizard, the legendary Gandalf the Great, tough to compare to others because his diverse body of work is so singular and unparalleled. The dazzling audio quality captured on this collection is further testament to his zen-master superiority behind the boards.
Angus & Julia Stone is ethereal and blissed-out in space while also sounding immediate and close enough to touch, like you’re sitting legs-folded under you on a plush rug in a home studio, just to the side of the drum kit, as the musicians and vocalists follow the wandering groove of the cosmic muse. It’s a really chill party that you’re thrilled to be invited to. Dance and drift around the fading firelight, slipping into an effortless dream you won’t soon forget.