On album two, the Stones build something lovely and lasting. Roll with them.
Chris Roberts 2010-03-10
Australian brother-and-sister duo Angus and Julia Stone, while nothing if not easy on the ear, are an acquired taste. Their habit of alternating tracks – she sings one, he sings one – makes them a trickier pitch than one where the dominant voice sets the mood.
This is a particularly unorthodox approach given that Julia possesses the kind of voice that generally sends critics into raptures. High and pained, it bears trace elements of Björk, Harriet Wheeler, Kristin Hersh, Jesca Hoop and Alison Shaw of Cranes. As a solo artist, she’d get quicker traction. Yet the contrasting laidback stoner tones of Angus are essential to the siblings’ appeal. Once you get into step, the yin and yang of his and hers make for a deft emotional map. She sounds edgy, all heartstrings; he’s chilled, all ennui. Hung across minimal, beautiful songs, it’s a powerful mix of gentle angst.
Down the Way, their second full album, is a quiet storm. Their overall restraint is commendable, with fine details proving as moving as pyrotechnics might try to be in less subtle hands. Hold On (opening in a wave of shimmer) and For You are Julia warming up her palpitations, giving us a warning nod before ripping our emotions from our chests. Angus, meanwhile, grooves away to himself like the most talented busker in the world, disinterested in reaching out, bringing an organic sun-kissed vibe to Big Jet Plane. Here, simplistic lyrics gain gradual resonance, like a mantra. (Elsewhere, their lyrics are often their weak spot, lapsing into hippie cliché). Around the mid-point, Down the Way grows into something which surpasses their delicate debut and expands their sweet acoustic softness without getting hard-hearted.
Yellow Brick Road is lovely, developing from a light Angus number with Al Stewart undertones into an impeccably-gauged, muted rock-out, with pinpoint staccato guitar stabs to rival Neil Young or Tom Verlaine. And the Boys, the single, is Julia’s showstopper, a brilliantly arranged and produced anthem-in-waiting which builds, almost invisibly, until its chorus and crescendo set up home in your brain.
With the most basic tools, the Stones build something lovely and lasting. Roll with them.