CD Review: Angus and Julia Stone – Down The Way

Review: Elena Gomez
Down The Way, second album from beloved folksy duo Angus & Julia Stone, sees the siblings put on their Producer hats and travel the globe, touring and recording with the likes of Martha Wainwright and Brad Albetta. They’ve sacrificed their memorable melodies and the arc that seemed to form their debut album, A Book Like This. But what they lose in melodious offerings, they make up in having a much more polished sound. Where A Book Like This was a home movie filmed in sepia, filled with character-forming crackles and perfect imperfections, Down The Way has been steered more professionally. Its homey elements are still present but they have been muted.
Angus & Julia StoneAngus & Julia Stone available at iTunes

The album opens with “Hold On”, in Julia’s fragile voice, and it’s clear from this point that the energy has been amplified, possibly a result of having a three year gap to progress and grow in their sound. There are lulls and swells in Down The Way that make for less passive listening. A little less of ‘round the campfire with last pair of clean undies’ and a bit more of ‘coasty road trip in a car with air-con and an icy-pole’.

For You” reminds us that the Stones’ best songs are their saddest songs. It’s the first track of this album that reignites the yearning and longing which seems to tinge many of their songs (the track A Book Like This track from their previous album). Their lyrics have never been particularly groundbreaking, but ‘If you love me with all that you are/If you love me I’ll make you a star in my universe’ possesses a childlike bittersweetness full of rollicking waves and gazing into the sky from a grassy field. Lyrics don’t need to be profound to touch the listener.

The comparative pop fluffiness of the following track, “Big Jet Plane”, is one of two things: A carefully crafted part of the master album in which A&J have a goody bag of emotions, from which they pull one out and attach to each song; Or, a reflection of the wayfaring manner in their recording travels, which included recording in Brooklyn, London and Coolangatta. In any case, it’s a song that gets better with each listen.

And The Boys” was the first track released from this album, and while it is really a gorgeous track, there is a general expectation for album listeners to find something even better within the album. In this case, the track is one of, if not the most memorable: Wistful lyrics matched to an ascending musicality, at just the right tempo.

Draw Your Swords” is, musically, the climax of the album, nestled among slightly more boring tracks such as “Hush”, towards the album’s end. The emotive arrangement of this song distracts somewhat from the poor melody, and it’s still a pleasant listen.

Down The Way dips into different sounds with each song, ranging from the edgy (“Black Crow”) to the lazy hazy (“Yellow Brick Road”) without feeling like it’s trying to accomplish too many things at once. At the same time, its appeal needs a couple of listenings in order to emerge. And falling in love with Angus and Julia Stone’s first album poses a slight problem: you become incredibly difficult to please. You want to see them grow into themselves, explored through their music. But then, you find yourself nitpicking each little thing they’ve done differently that you wish could stay the same.

Angus & Julia Stone

Angus & Julia StoneAngus & Julia Stone available at iTunes