Julia Stone has been the epithet of the indie-folk genre. With her song Big Jet Plane, performed in her duo with brother Angus Stone, being a staple of songs covered in pubs and café playlists, Stone’s music is as inescapable as it is entrancing. With a little help from key collaborators St. Vincent’s Annie Clark and Thomas Bartlett, Julia explores new heights in her latest offering ‘Sixty Summers’. More pop than any of her previous releases, this record contains some of her most experimental and musically brilliant pieces yet, producing 14 tracks of pure bliss, pure humanity and pure artistry.
The record opens with glistening synths and hefty electronic drums in Break. Stone’s vocals are almost conversational and floaty, somewhat reminiscent of Björk. The song is overall cheerful and inviting. Like listening to a whole festival in one song. “Darling darling, I feel like I might break. Darling, darling, you take me breathe away” she sings in the choruses. Off kilter guitars enter before the original synths are isolated as the song comes to a close. Title track Sixty Summers follows, much more mellow than the prior track. “We just want to make each other happy” she sings in the chorus. The song features a gorgeous horn arrangement, adding a unique and natural approach to her dive into the pop realm. “Sixty summers. We were lovers” she wails over the horn arrangements and fast-paced drums as the song comes to a close.
Piano-driven ballad We All Have follows, featuring indie-superstar Matt Berninger, frontman of indie-rock band The National. A hopeful track about how time heals all rough patches, the song is comforting and sombre. “Don’t be concerned about your job not working out, you will figure out every moment will pass in a moment and every thing that you need will be open.” she poses before continuing with “Leave it alone now, [you] just need time”, sending the message that all bad things will be pass, just be patient through it and it will work itself out. “Love is all we need to be here for” enters Matt’s recognisable vocals, before both vocalists close the last chorus together.
Animalistic vocal sounds open Substance, reminiscent of Kimbra‘s unique vocal and production style.
“Took me to a party and introduced me as a friend. Did you even notice when I left? You’re saying one thing and doing another… keep giving you loving it’s never enough, never enough. You keep giving me nothing, it’s fucking me up, fucking me up”.
She sings candidly about a lover who gives her mixed signals and avoids commitment. “I’m looking for substance”.
“It’s so hard to love you. Why don’t we dance?” She sings in Dance, the least traditional pop song on the record. She speaks the verses, reminiscent of ’80s pop music vocals over atmospheric pop instrumental. Pitch shifted church bells wedge themselves between the soft guitars and industrial sounding drums. Speaking in poetry, the song is a beautiful addition to the record and exploration of human nature and connectivity. “You’ve got that hold on me, I’ve got that hold on you. Why don’t we dance?”. The record closes on a French version of this song.
A deep bassline, atmospheric synths and horns open Free. The song never really goes where you expect it to, switching up the beat and loops to keep the listener engaged from start to finish. “Who do you think you are loving me like you do?” she opens in more the electro-pop almost deep-house track Who. It’s interesting hearing her voice in this context, after the indie-folk she’s sung so far in her expansive career.
Fire in Me begins with a very unique groove and loud, triumphant synths, seemingly somewhat inspired by glam rock. The eeriness of the synths and the groove even draw comparison to Muse, fully demonstrating the full diversity of the album and solidifying itself as a standout track. Neo-soul style instrumentation opens Easy. Her soft vocals sing alongside heavily distorted vocals. “I wish that I was easier for you” she sings. “A love like this don’t come by every day. I want this to be easy”. The neo-soul inspired groove and production continues in Queen, incorporating more live instruments than the first half of the record. “I’ve got what I need, boy” she sings, demonstrating the song’s core message of not selling yourself short for the sake of a relationship. Heron sounds shares similarities with the kind of pop powerhouse girl group Haim produce with its expert musicality and gentle, well-constructed harmonies.
“There’s something missing when you’re not around. I tried to find you.” She sings in Unreal. Her voice coos softly over a vocoder as she sings “You make me feel so unreal” in the choruses. An ode to a lover, the track is one of the most beautiful and comforting on the album. I Am No One finishes the ‘Sixty Summers’ with smooth acoustic guitars and acoustic percussion, surrounded by atmospheric synths, the most similar track to her previous work. “I’m leaving you again. Oh, oh, what have I become? I’m living off the pieces of other people’s love. Oh, oh what have I done? You are just a boy and I am no one.”. A beautifully sad ode to loneliness, demonstrating the best of what we know and love from Stone’s music.
‘Sixty Summers’ will be available on all platforms April 30th
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With thanks to Positive Feedback