It was inevitable. There was no way RCC could slide through the year without reviewing the much anticipated debut album from The Staves. They were touring with Bon Iver earlier this year but their position as a support act might not be so suitable – you’ll be happily dreaming before the end of their set. I saw them in the mid-afternoon sun of Bestival which suited their sound almost to perfection.
You only need to hear the first minute of Dead And Born And Grown to understand. Opening with a serene vocal harmony that could cure the most stubborn insomnia, The Staves deliver a sound that may not appeal to everyone but the beauty of their tone and timbre is difficult to deny. However, the album doesn’t really gain momentum until the popular ‘Motherlode’ plays. It reflects their compositional philosophy; by keeping the instrumental subtle yet refined, it gives the vocals an opportunity shine and the idyllic lyrics to shimmer, which they do.
To be fair, ardent fans of the sisters would have heard most of the album’s material through a series of equally delightful EPs. The soft ukulele in previously unheard ‘Facing West’ might provide something new for those fans while the line “Sing me a song, your voice is like silver” could easily be an encore chant for The Staves at a gig. One of the several highlights is ‘In The Long Run’ which is sung by the youngest sister Camilla who holds difficult notes with ease whilst the layering of finger-picking guitar is in itself a wonderful serenade on its own.
With the capability to produce stunning harmonies, you might think that they lack other strengths in their sonic armoury. You’d be wrong. With the edgy tonal changes of ‘Winter Trees’; the easy-listening ‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’; and the autumnal ‘Mexico’ you get a display of compositional variety that other folk artists sometimes lack. But one criticism I do have is that with such a lovely array of vocal chords, The Staves really should have lyrics filled with more vivid imagery – too often they are too vague and flat.
The Staves are definitely one of the more mainstream artists reviewed on RCC so the question has to be asked: will they be a commercial success? I’m not so sure they will. I see them developing a following similar to that of Regina Spektor’s (although it took her a few albums to achieve that), one that is large enough for the scene but also dedicated. But one thing’s for sure, The Staves produce some of the most spell-binding harmonies to date, one that your ears have longed for since birth. Emily once said: “I think being sung to is the nicest thing in the world. There’s nothing more comforting or enjoyable. And I would hope that this is what people feel when they hear us sing.” After one play-through of the album, I concur.
You can stream the full album at The Guardian.