It’s not hard for The Staves to sound good. It sometimes seems like a divine gift that the three Hertfordshire sisters’ voices harmonise so perfectly, and as was shown in their debut album Dead & Born & Grown; adding instruments into the mix only seems to make it better. The follow up to the well-received first album, If I Was, was recorded in Justin Vernon’s cabin in Wisconsin and produced by the Bon Iver frontman too, an experience he said “altered and changed me”. Vernon’s influence is evident throughout, with The Stave’s music developing a far more honest, deeper and cohesive sound than in their first album.
The difference between Dead & Born & Grown is apparent from the start with the lead single “Blood I Bled”. Its fast pace and compelling lyrics immediately grab the attention of the listener and unsurprisingly the harmonies work beautifully. For old-time Staves fans, the reliable gorgeousness of the three-way harmony atop minimalist instrumentals doesn’t take long to make an appearance, with “No me, no you, no more” dialling back the initial pace but not boring the listener.
It’s a much more well-rounded record than Dead & Born & Grown, but it does seem to be missing something. Where Dead & Born & Grown was intimate and honest, If I Was is loud, brash and almost overproduced at times, with “Black and White” feeling totally out of place in the middle of the album. Perhaps it’s personal preference but the overbearing nature of a few of the tracks pushes those gorgeous harmonies on to songs where they don’t belong.
However, it’s not all bad news. This album is very, very pretty, and it is an improvement on their first album. If I Was also shows that this is a band in transition, unsure of where to go, be it more traditional folk or a more adventurous route, and that shows with a disjointed track listing. It’s a shame, but taken alone, each song flourishes.