The Staves – If I Was

Released 3/31/15

4/7 stars

For fans of: Bon Iver, Feist, Ben Howard, Daughter

If I Was, the second full album from The Staves, explores an overarching theme of disappointment – in themselves, and others, while possibilities while away and youth fades. The Staves, comprised of Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor, is a sister trio from England. On their sophomore album, they worked under the direction of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, Volcano Choir) at his studio in Wisconsin, after supporting him on tour in 2012. The songs on If I Was toe the line between their folk roots and a more pop-oriented sound. It’s similar to the direction that other female folk artists have taken, like Feist or Daughter. The songs dance between the visceral and visual, or a gentle, quiet protest (which harkens back to more of their previous work). Overall, it shows a group that is still a work-in-progress, and are willing to experiment to discover the sounds they want to produce.

The album begins with a song that sounds like war. In “Blood I Bled” and “Steady,” the girls sing about emotional battlefield, surrounded by lush orchestration. “When unruly blood is pumping, why are you running scared?” Their natural harmonies add to the suspense and tension created by the multilayered instrumentalization.

That’s not to say that The Staves haven’t completely abandon their folk roots. Simplicity is key in songs such as “No Me, No You, No More,” “Don’t You Call Me Anymore,” “Make It Holy,” and “Sadness Don’t Own Me.” “Damn It All” is one of the slower tracks on the album, and plays like a wordless goodbye, a separation of one self from another, without making any more excuses. “Even though I love you, I want you to go,” the sisters delicately sing, adding a guitar to make their point. “Damn it all, I don’t want it all.”

In “Black & White,” the furious nature of being left in the dust is brought up again. “See myself in black and white, it isn’t done, it isn’t right,” the girls sing. The heavy instrumentals magnify the anger of self-examination.

In “The Shining,” which name-drops the horror film of the same name, lessens the anger with more piano and less harmony. It’s more upbeat, while the singer scrutinizes a relationship with all of its blemishes.

The last few tracks fritter away the disquiet of the previous melodies and instead focuses on how to change things for the better. In “Horizons,” the band asks, “where do I go / when I want to set it down?” The music picks up in “Teeth White.” It is a rock anthem to be stronger, despite all of youth’s frailties – and invincibility.

If I Was will be released on March 31. Currently the tracks are streaming via Stereogum. Top songs: “Teeth White,” “Black & White,” “The Shining,” and “Horizons.”