The Staves may be on their second album, but their creative journey has only just begun. Their debut album was a superb collection of low key, unassuming songs with enchanting melodies that introduced listeners to the natural chemistry between the three sisters who share vocal duties. The next step in their career takes them to Wisconsin, a drastic change in scenery to match their change in direction. The catalyst for all of this development? Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
In many ways this collaborative relationship is a match made in heaven. The evidence can be found in everything from the album cover to the songs that can be found inside. Vernon’s production style and general influence on the girls is positive. It suits them perfectly.
If there was any residual feelings of uncertainty or insecurity that shackled the group creatively, they have long since been broken. Exposure to a new environment, nurturing a creative relationship with the likes of Vernon and opening their eyes to the true potential of their music has liberated them and led them down an exciting road towards their second album, If I Was.
Blood I Bled begins with what appears to be business as usual, The Staves doing what we know they can do so well. There are, however, new dynamics in play. A sense of mounting tension. As the song builds further brass instruments are introduced. There is a fearlessness here. There is an unbridled honesty that comes from the music, a dim light shun on the darker spaces of lyrical thought.
No Me, No You, No More pulls no punches. There is no metaphor, or denial. The title, in as few words as possible, tells the story. “How can you tell me that you don’t love me like you did before? No me, no you, no more”. As a group, they have certainly grown stronger vocally. Their harmonies, easily recognisable as one of their central strengths, have tightened. They seem to flow effortlessly between several vocal phrases at any one time. Their sisterly bond may be intangible, but here it is unmistakable.
While folk remains the backbone of their style, there is no longer any sense of genre confinement. Black And White is among the more special moments on the record where the girls break into something a little edgier, a little more rock n’ roll. There is no longer a default mode to fall back on or a status quo to adhere to. Here they unleash the full power of their vocals to tremendous effect.
It is exiting as a listener to actually be able to hear a band evolving, especially when the evolution yields an album of this calibre. There are twelve tracks on If I Was, each one an uncompromising musical portrait of raw human feeling. Sometimes it is upbeat and chirpy like Teeth White. Other times it is more melancholic and wistful like Make It Holy.
The best part? These young eyes have only begun to open themselves up to the wider world of possibility. There is still an unquantifiable amount of potential waiting to be fulfilled.