All the signals were present on the recent Staves EP “Blood I Bled” that they were raising their game and producing a much fuller sound. Part of this undoubtedly derives from the move from Watford to Wisconsin, or to be more precise Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) studio in the remote and snowy outskirts beyond the city of Eau Claire.
On this second album “If I Was” the sisters have produced another gorgeous album of folk rock with those voices that stand comparison to First Aid Kit and Laura Marling. It is a reflective and wintry album, slightly at odds with the first blooming of spring. but those close harmonies bring enough sunshine to the listener. The rousing opening track “Blood I bled” comes from the aforementioned EP and has nice echoes of the Fleet Foxes. It is followed by “Steady” which the band describe as “a Frankenstein's monster, stitched together from one of Jessica's melodies and a chorus Camilla had been knocking around for more than a year”. It is excellent and while Vernon’s fingerprints are all over its backing atmospherics the sisters make it one of the most mature songs they have penned to date. The plaintive heartbreak love song “No me, no you, no more” is as still as the snow falling and segues beautifully into the gentle acoustics of “Let me down”. Other songs like the single “Black and White” take new directions and is a tougher rockier affair than those which precede it. Another “Teeth White” just about stays on the right side of sounding like a First Aid Kit cover.
The three part harmonies on “Don't you call me anymore” are to die for, while the gloriously wistful “Make it Holy” has that military sounding backbeat that Vernon employed with great effect on the second Bon Iver LP. There are points on the album when the sheer sweetness and dazzling harmonies threaten to overcome the listener. “Horizons” and “Sadness don't own me” veer in this direction but somehow the sisters pull off fine results. Best of all is “Damn it all”. It is certainly the most “produced” track on the album but it is a truly excellent song that builds to a huge crescendo.
“If I was” comes out on the same day that one of The Staves spiritual heirs Laura Marling releases her new album. Both were once pigeon holed in the "nu folk" bracket but have broken free of the shackles of this label. The Staves have are still musically finding their way but this album shows a huge step forward in confidence and maturity. It is most pleasing to report that in the journey from their eponymous debut to this well recorded follow up, there is no evidence of a sophomore slump to report.
Review by Red on Black