Stateside, last we heard from Australian brother-and-sister duo Angus & Julia Stone was precisely one year ago, as the delayed release of their debut record finally washed against American shores. In my review then, I said that besides the fact that they are siblings, Angus and Julia are, simply, talented musicians—specifically, talented musicians who work exceptionally well together. Nothing has changed there, but what has is a new expansion of their straightforward sound.
The Stone siblings grew up in a beach town near Sydney, but their second album as a vocal/guitar duo sounds like it was made by Americans with a yen for Fleetwood Mac and Joanna Newsom. As on their debut, the core of the music is dusty, derelict folk that's either ghostly or impossibly twee, depending on which Stone is singing lead (while initially entrancing, Julia's little-girl gulps and tweets – Walk It Off is infested with them – soon have you hitting fast-forward). This time, though, they've expanded the sound: there are velvety textures, lush(er) arrangements and, occasionally, actual choruses.
Only three years passed between the Stones’ debut and this follow-up record, but the siblings seem to have aged exponentially in the interim. While 2007’s A Book Like This found the two setting their own adolescence to a soundtrack of acoustic guitars and sparse percussion, Down the Way is a decidedly adult album, filled with textured arrangements and a wider array of influences. Angus and Julia handle their own production this time around, and the resulting songs jump from panoramic chamber pop -- often with a rootsy, Americana edge -- to bedroom folk songs, with both members trading off vocals and instrumental duties.
On album two, the Stones build something lovely and lasting. Roll with them. Chris Roberts 2010 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.