The trio of sisters known as The Staves first made a splash stateside with their stunning harmonies and tender acoustic-folk tunes. Their first couple EP’s were stunning, both in lyrics and melody, but were also sparse and metered. Attracting the attention of folks at Communion Music Group in 2012, they traveled with a troupe of the bands from the label’s roster (including the likes of Ben Howard, Bear’s Den, and Nathaniel Rateliff) across the United States in a van. Soon afterwards, they toured as an opener for Bon Iver. Both critically aided their development leading up to the release of their second full-length album, If I Was.
Carrying with it some of the Wild West fervor that they explored on their first album Dead & Born & Grown, The Staves create a fuller, textured sonic landscape (even dreamscape at times) in If I Was. And after touring with them, mesmerized by the blend of the their voices, Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) helped produce the album, going so far as to invite them out to his home town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to record the album.
“Blood I Bled” the first track off of If I Was, the second album just released by The Staves, makes it immediately clear that with the addition of Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) to the mixture, did not mean the loss of what is so amazing about the Stavley-Taylors. Opening with the pitter-patter of guitar, it builds into new territory with an enigmatic oscillation of strings, percussion, and horns, adding an inquietude that lingers through as a mark of the album. A new found support of instruments creates an outpouring, a layered quilt of sound that incorporates their ever-impressive blend and familiar swells of harmonies.
Relationships are at the forefront of the album, relationships with others and with different parts of ourselves, handled with a nuance and maturity of greater awareness and experience. Themes swirl and evolve from this: the way we bear each other, and ourselves, our perception and self-deception, how we manage expectations, and how freedom can simultaneously be our un-freedom.
The penchant toward of a different aural storytelling is best seen on “No Me, No You, No Us”, which foregrounds one note that remains steady, like the dulling, yet piercing pain of heartbreak that threatens to linger forever and seems to envelop everything in its spreading grey like a rain cloud. Another, “Black & White”, combines their smooth blend with more of a rock sensibility, allowing the careful stacking of vocal parts to contain a raw power and grit.
“Make It Holy” is perhaps the standout track of the whole album. It maintains the delicacy of their previous work, delving into the complexities of human desire bound up in an emptiness, in a desperate trying to make things okay: “Feel no glory, feel no pain/ I could make you want me, make you need me all the time/ I could make it holy, make it special, make it right”. The addition of Vernon’s voice adds a new balance to their song, creating a universality to the pain and longing posed.
Though a number songs fly under the radar, with the added effects and instrumentation not quite lifting them off the ground in a tractable manner, others, including “Steady”, “Let Me Down”, “Teeth White”, “Sadness Don’t Own Me For Long”, demonstrate their willingness to experiment with their sound in way that only expands and magnifies their brilliance. The Staves’ ability to craft lyrically deft, emotionally compelling, and sonically stunning songs remains strong and true. And with such growth from the first album the next, we only expect great things on the horizon.
Written by Nina Leonard
OurVinyl | Contributor