In the early stages of Angus Stone’s latest album, ‘Broken Brights’, Stone speaks of a man stuck in a dream. It’s a persistent image that has stayed with me, even when listening to the album for an umpteenth time.
‘Broken Brights’ is Angus Stone’s second solo outing but this time he has dropped the ‘Lady of the Sunshine’ moniker. It is a show of faith and confidence from the 26-year old, a man ready to define a path for himself that runs alongside the already paved (and extremely successful) route of the band he shares with his sister.
The album opens with a light pattering of guitar on ‘River Love’, but is defined by Stone’s singing – a raspy but beautifully melodic drawl. The song builds to a soaring instrumental but it’s the subtlety of Stone’s voice that steals this track.
Following is the title track, ‘Broken Brights’, the highlight of the album and an impressive display of song writing. It begins with a melancholic guitar riff but is set apart by what sounds like a suspended note of feedback – a single sound that hauntingly echoes behind the acoustic guitar until Stone begins to sing.
Stone then hits us with the defining refrain of this track: “Is that the old man, walking, in the dark?” His storytelling is subjective and could refer to anyone – to his father, to a crone, to an unknown old man. With lyrics like that of Stone’s, repeated and lucid, they stand out above the music. Beyond that, Stone never changes the way that he sings this particular refrain despite repeating it umpteen times. He never sings with an alternate intonation, it stays the same every time and remarkably never gets boring. It is simplistic and haunting, minimal and impressionable. It stays with you well after the four-minute song ends.
Following that is the second single, ‘Bird on the Buffalo’, with a similar folk accessibility. Similar to the first single, the lyrics here are sung with a clarity that brings them to the forefront of the song but the persistent imagery, almost fairy tale-like (and not the only time in the album), makes them equally mysterious. The images Stone paints with his lyrics always tend to carry a sense of metaphor: “The watchtower man turned and whispered me somethings.” But could this have been been a real occurrence? Indeed, you may find yourself wondering ‘Is this a true story?’ right throughout Stone’s album.
‘Apprentice of the Rocket Man’ is unique for the brief harmonies and layered tremolo guitar that are wonderfully suited for music like that of Stone’s. It rolls into ‘Only a Woman’ that carries Stone’s air of hopelessness: “I reached for words that just weren’t there.” His frustration and coyness becomes an enveloping distorted guitar solo, beautifully replacing words when they no longer do justice to emotion.
In an album covered in acoustic guitar intros, the staccato bass lead-in on ‘It Was Blue’ is refreshing and reflects Stone’s angry refusal: “I don’t need you now and I don’t need you anymore.” The foreboding has disappeared on this track and is replaced by anger; a damning statement now supersedes the melancholy and metaphor.
‘Broken Brights’ is an excellent record and the more I listen, the more I hear elements – a guitar lick, a vocal rasp – that I didn’t quite hear before. The songs are a mix of gems that instantly hit you or grow on you after a few listens, but it doesn’t take too long to realise how great they are. Stone is a songwriter who tells a story and certainly knows how to construct a melody. His lyrics are every bit metaphor, fairy-tale and self-reflection that makes his album incredibly intriguing but also forever mysterious.
Stone’s album is the dream he speaks of – time to get lost in it.
1. River Love
2. Broken Brights
3. Bird On the Buffalo
4. Wooden Chair
5. The Blue Door
6. Apprentice of the Rocket Man
7. Only a Woman
8. The Wolf and the Butler
10. It Was Blue
11. Be What You Be
12. Clouds Above
13. End of the World