2 October 2015

The Staves - If I Was


The sisters have come a long way from playing open mic nights in Watford, Hertfordshire, England.  The Staves are Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor, over the last few years this trio have been making lots of quite noise and gaining a reputation for performing some of the most beautiful folk/Celtic rock music to come from the United Kingdom for some time.  They have played major festivals around the world, they have supported Florence + the Machine on tours and this album was produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, a band they supported on an American/Canadian tour in 2012.  To say they are popular in that scene is an understatement, but they are a band I have only heard snippets of music and it is pleasant enough on the ears.  But I am not the biggest folk/Celtic rock fan, but sometimes it is good to try something different.  This album was released in March 2015, the cover was took when they were recording the album and it looks cold and beautiful at the same time - that forest scene is amazing.  Will the sisters have created an album to equal this picture?

Starting the album is "Blood I Bled" which reminds me a bit of Nick Mulvey and the song "Fever To The Form"; not a carbon copy or hinting that they stole anything - "Blood I Bled" is a completely different song and have horns, strings and a trio of sisters singing in harmony.  The way it reminds me of "Fever to the Form" is that it took my attention straight away; it is a haunted number that seems to be able trying to step out of the shadow of someone who is overpowering you, trying to do it quietly and without an emotional attachment.  It is a strong opening, fades a little towards the end for my tastes but still has enough to gain my interest.  "Steady" was the first song to be released from the album and it is actually two separate songs that the sisters have messed together.  The idea of trying to escape a trap is present once more, it seems that being trapped is something that does not appeal at least to one of the sisters.  I can see why this was a lead single, it showcases all the voices (both together and separately) and the music is as stirring as the words.  I am wondering why the need to flight is a strong factor or is it that the one who wants to run is a lover who cannot commit?  Anyway, that is not for me to figure out, I just find the song to be a beautiful song which is followed on with "No Me, No You, No More".  With an atmospheric synth in the background to give a brief piece of music to this solemn hymn to the end of a relationship, as the sisters form a trio of voices that untie for one powerful message of people trying to come to terms with abandonment.  It is a beautiful number, it is heart-breaking and I think the music in the background takes something away from the voices.  It is a minimal number to start with, but it is a song which will work as an a Capella number so much better.  "Let Me Down" is another song about a relationship in trouble, it is a gentle acoustic guitar number and mentions the good dying young, things being broken when someone does not know the destructive nature they are bring to the relationship.  The harmonies are beautiful as ever, the music is nice and once more I am wondering how this would sound stripped down to just the vocals.  But I digress, long story short - it is another love song that will melt many a heart.

"Black & White" is a strong number, the song feels that it is about gain or regaining independence from a suppressive situation after a quest of self-discovery.  I appreciate the sentiments behind the number, it feels like the lost side of the coin to the Elbow song "Grounds for Divorce" which is a huge compliment as it sounds fantastic.  It is not the best song on the album, but it is a strong number that you cannot help but appreciate.  The sixth song which floats into the world with the sound of keyboards and is named "Damn It All".  It is sounds like there is an air of resignation to this number, as if there is a sense of the inevitable break up is too much for one to bear; so why not end it before it gets too serious, if you did not want it that much to begin with?  It is not a situation that I would recommend to anyone, but for about fifty percent of this song I was wondering what was the point of the instrumentation in the song, the first half the song does not work for me (even after repeated listens I find it distracting to the vocals).  Then it gets to the three minute more (three minute, six seconds to be picky) and they start to build up towards an epic conclusion to the song.  I am always a fan of a great build towards an epic ending and this song has a stunning ending, this song is saved by the second half of this song.  Seventh track "The Shinning" is the first track on the album which does not do any justice to anyone involved in the album, it is a clash of piano, acoustic guitars, beautiful voices that seem to be singing a different song to the music and the first lyrics which I have not connected to on some level.  Basically this is worse than a filler, it does not showcase the talents of these ladies with their beautiful voices and it does nothing for the album - best avoided.  "Don't You Call Me Anymore" by comparison is a glorious anthem for the ages, but really it is just a pleasant number about having to spell it out to an ex-lover; but after "The Shinning", anything would be improved.  It is very gentle on the ear once again, another song for the colder months of the year.

"Horizon" is another song dealing with the end of a relationship and how the solid ground you have is as thin as the words of a compassionate Tory or Donald Trump.  You have one person aiming for new pastures and another who does not have a clue what is going to happen, sometimes love can be damning when it all heads south.  The music seems to have a sad lament, but the words are really harsh to both parties if we are honest; there is no right and wrong in that sort of situation, but this song seems to be a contrast of emotions that matches the turmoil of the lyrics.  "Teeth White" is a different song, for starters it is not about love and all of it going to shit.  It is a country/Americana song venting frustration about not being in charge of their own images, because people in a bands/films/the lime light can have their looks controlled.  Whilst it is something that I have not experienced, I reckon it will be a pain in the arse to have your life controlled to the nth degree.  The song is pleasant enough, but the lyrics are what make this song the gem that it is - sung with anger and style, why was this not the template for the album.  "Make It Holy" is the penultimate song of the album, once more we are back in the emotional turmoil of everything crashing down.  Yet again I am finding the voices are not getting the service they deserve; why was the military/brush drumming thought to be a good idea?  The guitars and vocals would have been enough, those parts are done to perfection - but more was added and it takes something from the song.  The last song is called "Sadness Don't Owe Me" brings the album to an end with a hint of fear, the panic about being alone is laid out bare against a piano background to a truth that some people struggle to face up with.  It is a quiet and gentle ending to this record, but it ends it in an appropriate way; after all of the other breaking up number, the fear needed to be shown as well as the bravado.

Sometimes less is more, sometimes you can add too much to a simple thing and it distracts from the strengths of the album.  An awful lot of this album would have been better if it had some of the instrumentation stripped back, this is ironic as it is a stripped out album in the first place and how can this sort of music sound cluttered in places.  I think the Staveley-Taylor sisters have beautiful voices, their harmonies are a delight to hear and you would be a fool to think that these ladies were not some of the best folk singers to have come from the UK.  This album does not showcase that talent in the best light, which is a real shame.  I really meant it earlier when I said I would love to hear an a Capella version of this album, I reckon that a vocal only version of this album would be a brilliant record.  I am not saying that every song needed to be just the ladies, my favourite song is "Steady, but some of the other songs suffer under the weight of unnecessary instrumentation.  This is an album that could have been good, but it hampered by not knowing when less is more.

6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there

Top track - Steady

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Staves website here

You can also follow their activities on Facebook here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

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