This isn’t the first time Julia Stone has gone it alone. Two albums in 2010 and 2012 developed the Australian’s penchant for shimmering acoustic tones, stacked against the starker, more vulnerable visuals that we have become familiar with after four albums with her younger brother Angus. Don’t be fooled by what has come before though. Julia’s new record Sixty Summers is a different kettle of fish altogether.
In fact, it isn’t until song thirteen that we get anything that could even remotely exist on an Angus and Julia Stone record. ‘I am No One’ is a fragile yet darkly threatening lament full of familiar vocal arrangements and harmonies based around a fluid acoustic guitar, simple percussion and brooding synths. It’s a wonderful moment and one of Julia’s favourites to play live, but don’t judge the whole album on this track’s particular qualities; if Rick Rubin reinvigorated the Stone siblings’ Laurel Canyon vibe on their third record, then Julia fearlessly eschews it on this one; the latin spirit of vigorous opener ‘Break’ is a case in point, but it is the leftfield pop of the album’s title track which really reinforces the direction this album has been driven in.
There’s a lush dynamism to Julia’s vocals; an initially gothic Lana Del Rey vibe is replaced by a soaring power and intensity that we have rarely heard before. Pulsing bass tones drive the song, but it’s the more subtle layers of horns and scratchy synths that also hint at Annie Clarkes’ creative contribution to the record. The coarse guitar inflections confirm it.
Matt Berninger’s involvement on the feathery ‘We All Have’ feels like a bit of an interlude on this kaleidoscopic record and the album is jolted back to life with the more orthodox pop of ‘Substance’ before the Lynchian ‘Dance’ offers a more unique take on the pop genre, incorporating spoken verse amidst a dubstep groove, ominous church bells and slide guitars. These kind of unexpected combinations become a reoccurring motif that threads through the whole album and as if to reinforce the point, Annie Clarke’s guitar adds impetuous muscle to the gyrating groove of ‘Free’.
The record twists and turns amidst these variations and it comes as no surprise that it is the product of an irregular five year recording period. There’s is certainly a screwy sense to the record, which makes it difficult to predict what is just round the corner. Although this mostly adds to the charm, there are moments towards the album’s conclusion when Stone’s signature vocal motifs become lost in these various tangents the album travels on. On the whole though, Julia Stone has created a rich, multi-textured pop album of real quality. Quirky it may be, but it’s one that offers the chance to trip the light fantastic in some style! Surely that’s a good thing.