When a band or artist reaches a certain level of success, there’s usually only a certain few ways in which their subsequent output will go. One is to find a formula that sticks, and continue to produce pretty much the same album time and time again to the faithful masses (as is the case with far too many bands I’d care to mention here). Alternatively, they can ditch the old, branch out and try something new, and see what works. Could be a winner and potential game changer (Radiohead, Kid A), or could lose half your fan base (Arctic Monkeys, Humbug. Great album in my opinion, not all thought that way).
Intriguingly, and somewhat thankfully, The Staves manage to find a fine balance between the two on their second LP – while there’s enough of the old sounds from their wonderful debut “Dead and Born and Grown”, the Watford siblings have wisely hooked up with Bon Iver’s main man Justin Vernon on production duties, who has opened up the bands musical palate significantly. We’re not talking radical avant garde jazz solos here, but there’s a definite shift from the simple-yet-effective guitar and uke backing from yesteryear to the swelling overall textures and soundscapes prevailing in these songs – the rousing horns and military drums from opener “Blood I Bled” make their most significant impression, while other interesting departures include the echo draped “The Shining”, the looping percussion of “Steady”, and the upbeat country twang to “Teeth White”. Probably the closest song to their earlier work is the simple, bluesy number “Don’t You Call Me Anymore”, which acts as a nice breathing point mid-way into the album.
Taking centre stage as expected are the almighty three way harmonising vocal’s – in the few short years since their debut the trio have really strengthened their what was already impressive range. While all strong singers individually, it’s when their voices combine that the album really soars, in particular album highlights “Let Me Down” and “Make It Holy” (Vernon even chips in mid-way through the latter with a few cheeky pipes, not wanting to miss out on all the fun). This is the bands strongest selling point, and it would have been nice to hear a few more of their intricate a Capella’s weaved in throughout the songs. However, this is picking minute holes in a band that at this rate will be around for many more albums to come.
Verdict: Taking a breezy sidestep from the “difficult second album” problem, the sisters have created a minor triumph, progressing their sound naturally and effortlessly, whilst still staying true to the heart of their songs.