Angus and Julia Stone - Down the Way
Record Label: Nettwerk
Release Date: March 30, 2010
We have enough things in life to keep our blood pumping and our adrenaline levels running high. There are those individual stressors, like work to be done, grades to make and bills to pay in tough economic times. We've had an edge-of-your-seat March Madness season filled with last-minute buzzer beaters that have either found you raising a fist in triumph or wanting to run your brackets through a shredder. With the passage of the healthcare reform bill, there's of course the concern of a Socialist revolution, and ultimately, a zombie apocalypse. And if that fails to do us all in, those science nerds at CERN have that Large Hadron Collider up and running again, as if they don't know that ramming subatomic particles together at super-high velocities can bring about a chain reaction, causing the planet to collapse into an expanding black hole-- anti-matter is not to be fucked around with. This is all nerve-racking shit, to be sure, which is why, now more than ever, we need Angus and Julia Stone.
Down the Way, the Stones' follow up to 2007's A Book Like This is a little bit of an oddity for its ilk, an exceedingly approachable indie-pop album that runs for over an hour, territory usually reserved for epic, prog-leaning stuff, of which this is almost a polar opposite. Despite their somewhat extended lengths, these songs possess simple, breezy melodies, adding up to one delightfully soothing elixir. It's not soothing in that narcotic sense, where your pains are numbed and you're left pondering what it's like to be a tree. Troubles still abound, but regardless of what Angus and Julia are actually singing about, there's an overall feeling of reassurance that it's all going to be okay.
The Australian brother-and-sister duo alternate turns at lead vocal, each providing cozy harmonies for the other. Typically, the songs vary stylistically to fit the individual singer's style, resulting in some welcome range. Julia's hushed, childlike voice matches up with her songs, which usually consist of keys, acoustic strums and sweeping cinematic strings. The Angus-led tunes are a little more electric, bassy and accented with slide guitar. While the instrumentation is sometimes on the folky, countryish side, the siblings have a knack for making the bucolic arrangements sound sophisticated, rather than provincial. On "Santa Monica", Julia even sings about "drinking wine in the back yard". It's a beautiful upstate New York day today, so this doesn't sound like a half-bad idea, but being a whiskey-and-beer guy myself, it's obvious these are classier folk than I.
While Julia unquestionably has her heartmelting moments-- indeed, everything her voice touches has this almost uniformly intimate charm-- it's Angus behind the record's real show-stoppers. "Big Jet Plane" has the same type of lavish chamber-pop accompaniment that usually characterizes Julia's pieces, but with the addition of an insistent bass thump, it takes on a completely different complexion. The seven-minute story song "Yellow Brick Road" gives a shout out to Neil Young, and its interplay between electric guitar solos and steel guitar flourishes gives it a feel that's both organic and otherwordly. And on "Draw Your Swords", when he advises, "Let's not fuck around," in a voice barely above a whisper, he's rightfully calling for your attention, and he holds it rapt with his yearning, breathless performance.
With serenity so hard to come by, an album like Down the Way is all the more satisfying. While it can get occasionally wistful and heartsick-- Julia sings, "Light me up a cigarette and put it in my mouth. You're the only one who wants me to die," on "I'm Not Yours"-- it's still all too easy to let its balmy tones wash over you. My boss is giving me the hairy eyeball again because I'm wasting time commenting on Facebook statuses and not getting any work done (again)-- and thanks to this dynamic duo, I couldn't care less. What's troubling you today? Whatever it is, call on Angus and Julia Stone. They can help.
Beautiful album, great to see them doing so well -- straight to number 1 in Oz and have stayed there for two weeks straight. The two singles, Black Crow and And The Boys, have received a lot of radio play. What are your thoughts on those songs?