Albums

Album Review: The Staves – If I Was

After their fantastic debut album in 2012, the trio of multi-instrumentalist sisters return with a wider sonic palette. If I Was, the latest release from the three girls that make up The Staves is truly exceptional. After an extensive tour, The Staves have finally revealed their 12 track LP and just before festival season begins. 

Opening track ‘Blood I Bled’ (initially played on tour a few years ago under the intriguing working title of Roy Dotrice’s Ballbag) is a gripping journey which sets the tone for the album. It begins simple; with Jess’ voice atop a folky acoustic guitar and each introduce some great melodies, before Camilla and Emily come in to form a sublime three-part harmony. Once more instruments are added – bass, horns, and drums which would be at home on a Florence and the Machine record – the result sounds much fuller than anything on The Staves’ more intimate debut album. The song is strikingly dynamic, twisting and turning towards a powerful crescendo then finishing off with a lush combination of ukulele, horns and strings.

[quote] It is doubtful whether there is another band with harmonies as perfect and as pleasing; while all three sisters would make great music as solo artists, it’s absolutely magical when they come together. [/quote]

‘No Me, No You, No More’ is one of the highlights of the album, showcasing the trio’s beautiful harmonies over a serene drone. It is doubtful whether there is another band with harmonies as perfect and as pleasing; while all three sisters would make great music as solo artists, it’s absolutely magical when they come together. This track smoothly transitions into the heart-wrenching ‘Let Me Down’,which is perhaps the most stripped back song on the album, but still has a wurlitzer and piano adding extra depth. The end is an ever-changing web of acapella layers, with one cascading melody over the top of a harmonized circular melody.

Despite being from Watford, the trio recorded at April Base in Winsconsin so the album could be produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. American rock influences are shown in ‘Black & White’, with massive drums in the verses and a distorted riff reminiscent of ‘My Song 5’ by Haim leading into the chorus. A similar vibe runs throughout ‘Teeth White’, conjuring images of driving down an open road with the roof down in summer.

‘Horizons’ juxtaposes lyrics such as “my solid ground feels so paper thin” against an overwhelmingly upbeat piano and infectious clapping melody. Syncopation and unusual time signatures are used to great effect a few times across the album, without sounding contrived as some bands do. I would normally be an issue if a chorus were repeated four or five times, but ‘Make It Holy’ is an exception. It’s so catchy that an assortment of other people (including Justin Vernon) can’t help but sing along by the end of the track, even continuing once the sisters stop.

[quote]It’s so catchy that an assortment of other people (including Justin Vernon) can’t help but sing along by the end of the track.[/quote]

Considering how accessible the album is, there are far more uncommon song structures than expected, which is certainly not a criticism. An example is ‘The Shining’, with an instrumental which wouldn’t be out of place on Radiohead’s In Rainbows, no chorus and an unexpected fuzzy solo at the end. ‘Damn It All’, the longest track and one of the most captivating, progresses from vocals soaring over an ambient wall to an interwoven blanket of harmonies, then completely changes and gradually increases the tension, before finally giving the release of a nice outro.

Between now and album 3, expect plenty of live performances which will be just as good as the album and make sure you catch them on tour. It is impossible to know what direction their music will take, but it will definitely be exciting to watch The Staves’ career unfold.

8 / 10

Callum Martin-Moore

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One Comment
  • Andrew
    24 April 2015 at 19:34
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    Nice review! Just a minor correction: on Blood I Bled it is Camilla leading in / singing lead vocals, not Jessica.

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