We like Angus & Julia Stone, so much so that we’d even pop them up there as the best brother-sister act since Same Difference. The Aussie siblings have always been quite captivating, whether in an obvious Big Jet Plane kinda way, or as understated on A Book Like This. Basically, they’re very good at what they do.
So it comes as a surprise to learn the acrimony behind the self-titled new album. The duo went their separate ways, producing solo records that were never quite up there with their joint back catalogue. It took a couple of chance meetings followed by a dalliance with Rick Rubin (yep, the same bearded wonder who has a hand in every album from Adele to Jay-Z) to convince them to reunite and properly write together for the first time.
Unfortunately it feels a bit more like a forced family reunion than a homecoming to be celebrated. Certain elements of the album are unsurprisingly on point – Rubin’s production is pristine on tracks like Heart Beats Slow and Grizzly Bear, but quite literally to a fault. Angus and Julia have always thrived when being slightly less produced and a little bit rough round the edges; each sibling has a distinct, recognisable voice that works when given room to breathe, but here they feel too cloistered, the interplay too forced. Tracks like Other Things and Please You – while richly instrumented – seem at odds with the rootsy vocals we love, not to mention absent of real heart.
But there are times when the duo still soar, particularly in the more exciting second half. Little Whiskey and From the Stalls pack a nifty one-two punch; meanwhile, Wherever You Are is quietly charming, Death Defying Acts channels Lana-blues to yield a strong single, and album standout Get Home has the sort of mettle that would catapult them to modern Americana greatness. Which makes the overall take-home from Angus & Julia Stone all the more frustrating: the siblings have the capability to be as affecting as a family reunion, but this time present more of an awkward family photo instead.