Sibling rivalry can produce interesting results. Some relationships that were merely nothing more than tolerable can be argued to have produced a partnership's best results. Oasis, for instance, were at their height when brotherly love was clearly on the wane. Other notable contemporaries rarely collaborate but do seem to have a healthy competitive streak to them, although many of them would probably deny this. Martha Wainwright wouldn't openly acknowledge that she'd like to be bigger than her older brother, but I bet somewhere inside is the desire to out-do him just for a while (I'm sure Janet Jackson was suitably smug when she was atop the charts instead of her brother Michael). Even the most angelic and successful duos such as The Carpenters were, in the end, undone by their own addictions and disorders, arguably in part born out of the strain on their relationship.
On the more laid back Australasian shores where Angus & Julia Stone hail from, I'm sure this potential friction is a far more mellowed out affair but nevertheless it is more than likely to exist on some level. After producing a set of critically acclaimed albums over six years performing and touring together, Angus & Julia Stone have decided the time is right to cut free and go it alone (At least temporarily). Angus did it through the back door in 2009 with his solo album 'Smoking Gun' and Julia more recently with 'The Memory Machine'. This time around, rather than do it 'undercover' Angus Stone has taken the lead from his younger sister and put out his own solo album, under his own name. 'Broken Brights' is the result; but does it match up to, fall short of, or exceed his sisters sublime solo effort?
Broken Brights is not an instant win with any degree of immediacy. It requires a listener's attention and, in some parts, persistence. Perseverance, however, does on this occasion pay off. Where a more immediate approach may have brought fleeting attention and a fickle following, this more subtle and considered composition plays the long game. All those that want to believe that there is more to this album than they may initially hear will be richly rewarded with an album of such texture and tenderness.
There are echoes of Led Zeppelin on the beautifully composed and constructed 'Only A Woman'. The waves of guitar and piano act as both a balance and contrast to the mellow harmonic vocal Angus applies to convey the sympathetic lyric... 'Takes me back to them old days, it's funny how times they come so clear. When you held me close in that sweet rain, I held you so dear, and I held you so dear'. The more forthright 'It Was Blue', at the very least, paid homage to The Stooges' 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'. Johnny Cash meets Chris Isaak to conjure up exotic mystery on the David Lynch like 'The Blue Door' and even mild psychedelia is heard to punctuate the trippy, spaced out soundscape of the wonderfully drowsy 'Apprentice Of The Rocket Man'. The ability of this track to transport you to another world is quite incredible. If you want to experience weightlessness without passing the NASA exam or forking out the $200,000 for a Virgin Galactic flight then sit back, close your eyes and become immersed in Angus Stone's quite brilliant tune.
The title track 'Broken Brights' uses soft layers to great effect helping to harmonise the looping initial sequence before the song breaks ever so slightly and a wash of sound scores the fond reminiscence of youth. 'Bird On The Buffalo', his current single, is altogether more raw, vocally and instrumentally, with Angus nearing Bob Dylan in his delivery. The optimism of love shines through, even giving rise to a cheerful whistle and spontaneous hand claps, on the summer scented tones of 'Wooden Chair'. Horns and harmonica lend a helping hand as Angus continues to share his romantic notions on 'The Wolf And The Butler'... 'Make her smile boy, don't ever look away, she'll be your ocean on the darkest of days.' The beat and the banjo on 'Monsters' underpin a well scripted troubled tale of Billy the train driving man and in 'Clouds Above' we are treated to the more whimsical side of Angus Stone with his talk of scones and ginger biscuits. Finally, and fittingly, 'End Of The World' closes out the 13 track set with an organ infused whir of hypnotic and hallucinatory hedonism.
Had Broken Brights been made by a British performer I feel sure it would have been a Mercury contender. The album is multi-faceted releasing just a little bit more of its secret with each listen. No two songs are the same and yet the continuity is flawless. You will not want to dip in and out of this album once you have discovered its delights as it will draw you in completely. Is it partly the result of a sibling rivalry that is not spoken of but merely hinted at? Who knows? Whatever the catalyst was for Broken Brights (His 'most personal work to date'), long may it linger.