Angus & Julia Stone repeat and clash on “Snow”
Grace Weissend | Thursday, September 21, 2017
If Angus & Julia Stone released anything on their new album “Snow,” it was an identity crisis.
The newly released album, from the Australian sibling duo that created a lasting hit with their 2010 track “Big Jet Plane,” has significantly less bright spots and “hits” than it was expected to have. The album cover is the first indication of this — a cutesy snapshot for the Instagram age — sharply contrasting both the more artistic vibe of Angus & Julia Stone’s past albums and the moody tone of “Snow’s” 12 unimpressing tracks.
The inspirations behind “Snow” seem to cover a broad range — from country western, to the kitschy duo She & Him, to the American ballads of Bruce Springsteen. In fact, the influence of Springsteen feels so strong at points that during the intro to “Who Do You Think You Are,” I briefly thought I had accidentally shuffled into the Springsteen classic “I’m On Fire.” Many of the songs feature a similar sounding slow burn drum line, which on individual songs is a pleasant sound but grows old very quickly when featured on each tune. In fact, one of the main weaknesses of “Snow” is its steady tempo and unoriginality; without variation, the album feels like a long drawn out text book rather than the collection of meshing short stories it should be. This is what makes “Chateau” stand out so definitively on the album – it is a bit more upbeat, less unapologetically melancholy and more innovative than the rest of the duo’s album.
From “My House Your House” to “Sylvester Stallone,” the songs on “Snow” tend to gravitate towards repetitiveness. The Angus & Julia Stone “song formula” that they use so frequently throughout the album involves a verse or two of genuinely interesting lyrics, followed by a very extended bridge that repeats with a soft ending, typically involving a jingling tambourine. Another formulaic element that persists in showing up throughout “Snow” is the lyric “My House / Your House” (separate from the song of the same title). It is not abundantly clear what Angus & Julia Stone are going for with that overdone riff other than to extrapolate on the idea of a relationship in crisis, but the seeming motif becomes distracting and non-complementary to the album’s other meaningful lyrics. The formula would work once, perhaps twice, but when it is the noticeable go-to lyric for nearly a third of the album, it begins to feel stale.
Although shaped off the “Snow” formula, “Bloodhound” is a needle in the haystack — it works nicely with the formula and becomes a highlight of the album. Angus takes the reins on the ballad with Julia providing backup, and they strike a vocal balance and harmony that is desperately lacking on the rest of the album.
One of the biggest issues with Angus & Julia Stone as a duet is the lack of cohesion between their voices. Angus’s casual, conversational tone sinks while Julia’s nasal falsetto floats; individually, they both have lovely voices, but together there is an audible tension between them that worms its way into the listener’s brain and serves to irritate. I have to admit that I was looking forward to listening to “Snow” while studying, but by the time I reached “Sleep Alone” — less than halfway through the album — I turned on another playlist out of sheer frustration and distraction caused by it. Angus’s constant vocal drop-off made me linger on each lyric, attempting to decipher them, while Julia’s sharp sound made me lose my train of thought. I was unsure whether this pull of focus was a good or bad thing until a Simon and Garfunkel song shuffled onto my Spotify, and I seamlessly sunk into the harmonious sound as I smiled and zoned in on my work. In a sonic landscape where it is important for duos to blend — and do so effortlessly – Angus & Julia Stone don’t. They delivered an album where two voices were singing in conflict, not in harmony.
Artist: Angus & Julia Stone
Label: Capitol Records
Favorite Track: “Bloodhound”
If you like: The Paper Kites, Ben Howard, Boy & Bear