Album Reviews

The Staves – If I Was

(Atlantic) UK release date: 23 March 2015

The Staves - If I Was A folk-influenced band consisting of three sisters who sing in perfect harmony may well conjure up memories of a certain band of photogenic Irish siblings (and their brother) who were popular a decade ago. However, to dismiss The Staves as just a modern-day, English version of The Corrs would be to do them a major disservice.

Three years ago, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor announced their arrival with the excellent debut Dead Born & Grown. It was, rather unfairly, lumped in with the rest of the English ‘nu-folk’ movement popular at that time, and The Staves became eclipsed by the likes of Mumford & Sons, Noah & The Whale and Laura Marling.

If Dead & Born & Gone was just a glimpse of The Staves’ promise, then If I Was delivers on that promise in absolute spades. There’s a new, easy confidence about the band on the record – the harmonies are still there, but this time they’re built around the songs, rather than the other way round. And what songs they are: gorgeous and dramatic, there are moments on If I Was that could positively make you swoon.

There’s been much publicity around the fact that Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is on production duties for this second album, and it’s true that his influence is writ large throughout. The restrained build-up to Don’t You Call Me Anymore could have been taken from For Emma Forever Ago, and he contributes a beautiful guitar line to Make It Holy. Yet this is far more than a third Bon Iver album with some female vocals.

Opening track Blood I Bled is the first sign that the Staveley-Taylor sisters have beefed up their sound. It builds brilliantly through its four minutes, incorporating brass, woodwind instruments and an insistent, almost military drumbeat right up to the song’s climax. There’s also a previously unheard rock element proudly displayed on Black And White, while Teeth White has a jaunty country feel to it, reminiscent of some of First Aid Kit’s more upbeat moments.

Mostly though, the mood is downbeat, reflective and wistful. No Me No You No More is as desolate as its title would suggest, while Steady is a swooping, soaring and sorrowful ballad which showcases the sister’s harmonies to their very best effect. It’s also unapologetically catchy, so much so that it could well be The Staves’ breakthrough hit.

Lyrically, it’s pretty much all focused on lost love and disintegrating relationships, adding to the lovelorn atmosphere. Let Me Down is self-explanatory enough, with its opening line of “I know you, I need you, I had you, did I let you down?” and the almost impossibly gorgeous Damn It All sees Emily murmer that “I want to keep you inside me like a secret that I’ll never tell” while Jessica and Camilla lightly lend their vocal support. Like a lot of the album, it’s a restrained and fragile song, but never a boring one.

The closing Sadness Don’t Own Me sees some kind of light let in amongst the bleakness – giving the end of the album a sense of letting go and moving on. It’s a fitting ending to a stunningly gorgeous-sounding album which should see the three talented sisters move up to a whole new level.

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More on The Staves
The Staves – All Now
The Staves – Good Woman
The Staves – If I Was
The Staves – Dead & Born & Grown