Originally Published in Time Out Sydney Magazine, Print & Online Edition, November 2010. Click Here to Read Online.

Julia Stone - First Solo Album, "The Memory Machine"

Julia Stone – First Solo Album, “The Memory Machine”

Oh Julia, sweet Julia: if no one else out there cares, we still love you. But honestly,The Memory Machine sounds like more of a cry for help than an intimate collection of ballads. To Stone’s credit, the album is a brave, soul-exposing work; it takes balls to put yourself out there like that. The album artwork sells itself with an old Hollywood movie-poster appeal. It seems like something out of a Hitchcock film with each track’s artwork featuring elements of the dark and sinister. Musically, however, the album falls short.

It’s lyrically similar to Angus and Julia Stone’s hit, ‘Down the Way,’ with simple, sweet lyrics chanted over and over again. Julia’s solo release is haunting and eerie with dark undertones and themes of insecurity, pain and love gone wrong. Spooky lyrics fill the tracks,‘He laid me on the floor/But my screams they go unheard/The lady living next door/Well she’s six feet under the dirt,’ on the ominous ballad, ‘Winter on the Weekend.’

The pace of the album is slow and brooding; the sort of thing you would need to listen to in the dark with a bottle in hand. A sort of bleak intimacy is established as Julia exposes her tortured soul track after track. Opening with the very Angus and Julia-esque ‘This Love,’ which was featured in Aussie flick The Waiting City, the tone begins positively as Stone croons “The angels got it right/When they made you.”

The second track, ‘My Baby,’ probably should have gone elsewhere in the song order. The ick-factor of placing two mushy love songs side-by-side is considerable and by the time you hear, “Clouds will cover your eyes/You’ll tell me lies/But I won’t leave you/’Cause you’ll always be my baby” you can feel a tinge of nausea brewing in the pit of your stomach.

In a welcome break from the romantic, the third tune, ‘Winter on the Weekend,’ is a well-crafted, mournful ballad about sex, violence and abandonment. The song, however, is executed well and Stone’s whispering range is captivating, sucking you into the dark scenario that spills from her lips. The title track is unfortunately skippable with uninspired lyrics, “I miss you/I miss you/And the memory machine.”

‘The Memory Machine’ does have its saving graces. We get to hear Julia crack a smile in the upbeat track, ‘Catastrophe,’ which features a nice little jazz-inspired trumpet riff. Stone shifts into track six, ‘Maybe,’ which is an appealingly sinister tune very much in-line with the horror film album artwork.

The tracks between six and ten fail are emotionally overwrought and just straight up sad. It’s tough listening to our beloved Stone lay her heart on the line, but by the time you reach the self-pitying ‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ you can’t help but throw your hands up in despair and exclaim through tears, “Shit man why can’t anybody just cut this poor girl a break?” It’s truly a difficult listen.

Make it through the record’s mid-life crisis, however, and you will be rewarded. Track nine, ‘Horse with the Wings,’ uses an innovative mix of both electric and acoustic guitar and throws some flute into the equation. The last song on the album, ‘Where Does the Love go?’ is the other star along with ‘Catastrophe’. It speaks along the same lyrical themes of hardship, but Julia’s jamming on the ukulele complements her intoxicating vocals.

Overall, we commend Miss Stone on her brave solo performance. The soft-spoken songstress is beautiful and poised, but she should stick with her brother. There’s a reason the duo of Julia plus Angus Stone works so well and it’s probably best to stick to the formula that works.

Suzanna Lourie