The Staves If I Was Released 23 March, 2015 Universal
Hertfordshire’s finest three-part harmony group The Staves show they are much more than delicate acoustic and pure voice on their second LP If I Was. Take opening track “Blood I Bled” for example, which begins in familiar fashion with finger-plucked guitars woven around haunting vocals and rich, heart-melting harmonies before slowly unveiling layers of flourishing strings and dramatic instrumentation.
The trio recorded the album with the help of Justin Vernon and his influence is apparent, combining alt-Americana which is spacious yet fresh and natural with rocking instrumentation that is louder and more upfront than we’re accustomed to but that also remembers to utilise the abundance of charm and wonder that is the sister’s pared voices, they remain the key throughout as they come apart and unite over and over again, the result is magical.
“Black and White” highlights that bolder dynamic with fuzzy guitars and full-blooded percussion, ‘Steady’ has found a permanent place in my mind already with its infectious chorus and ringing guitar line whilst “Make It Holy” (which features Justin Vernon himself) almost sounds like a Bon Iver track with its slowly rumbling rhythm and forthright, emotive songcraft.
I’m a sucker for those harmonies however and the beguiling “Damn It All” and sweetening “No Me, No You, No More” are my favourites, highlighting The Staves at their most beautiful. “Damn It All” with a haunting accordion backing that fills the track with atmosphere before the sisters voices entwine together in the latter half and “No Me, No You, No More” may be a lament but it fills you with some emotion that the intimacy feels so warm and welcome.
Closing track "Sadness Don't Own Me" is a beautiful piano led ballad that deserve special mention to, the tone throughout the track (and album as a whole) is exquisite. An album to sit back with and truly enjoy as one.
The opening line of this had me weak at the knees, such is its haunting power, "Open", the second track we've heard from The Staves forthcoming Blood I Bled EP is an absolute beauty.
Intricate acoustic plucks and pure harmonies is what The Staves have become renowned for and here, you're not let one down one bit, here though, there's more strength and maturity in their production and writing on evidence too.
From that smoldering beginning "Open" progresses with twinkling keys and purposely slow electronic beats as the trio's harmonies grow together, entwining in unison with the most majestic of results.
I'm glad I snapped up tickets to their quickly sold out London gig at the end of the month, the same day as the EP is released - if you weren't so lucky, you can pre-order it here.
As someone who has lived down the road from Watford for the past twelve years I think I am in a fair position to say that not too much excitement comes out of the town, concrete market centres and dodgy nightclubs aside of course. So it's left to The Staves to fly the flag for all that is good (and not Elton John's football club) from the town, therefore, it's great to have the sibling trio back in our ears after almost two years away with the title track from a newly announced EP Blood I Bled (the EP is due October 28th).
The track begins in familiar fashion, finger plucked guitars woven around haunting vocals and rich, heart-melting harmonies before slowly unveiling layers of flourishing strings and dramatic instrumentation, recorded it with help of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon it combines Americana with an autumnal and fresh sound that will have you (almost) glad that summer is practically over...
The EP is due to follow on October 28th preceded by a week long series of intimate UK gig - details.
Sunday arrives in no time at all and I spend the first couple of hours packing away our tents and taking our belongings back to the car - I'm back at work first thing Monday morning, have a long journey ahead and two young children - the decision had already been made to leave before tonight's headliners so it's nice to hear a little bit of Belle & Sebastian in soundcheck.
After breakfast, a bit of shopping (I even treat myself to a nice handcrafted woolen jumper) and more circus activities (my five year old has got pretty good at hula-hooping now!) I head into the Big Top solo and listen to Crocodiles, a band I'd pretty much forgotten about since I liked their "Neon Jesus" / "Summer of Hate" singles some four years ago. I find myself reminded of what I've been missing - motorik rhythms all wrapped in fuzz, a thick, toe-tapping pysche sound that has a midday crowd happily nodding along.
We take in more of the sights of the festival next and some quiet time too. A beer or two relaxing is sometimes all that is needed.
The next act we head for are The Staves, hailing from just down the road from me I'm one of the few who 'get' their Watford based anecdotes. Their humorous and repeated profanity in between songs might seem out of place but the sun is out and the sisters' heart-melting harmonies are definitely not. It's beautiful and delicate as the crowd shuffle quietly trying not to disturb anyone. That actually sums up the general atmosphere of the festival well, very dignified and appreciative - End of the Road is a festival for music lovers, pretty much every one of the 10,000 in attendance the same at heart.
We have to rush to the Woods stage to catch Caitlin Rose, she's already playing "No One To Call" as we hit range, damn you scheduling clashes! The hour set is heavily based on her latest record The Stand-In with "Silver Sings The Blues" and "Only A Clown" winning the crowd over particular well. It's an almost new band that's on tour with Caitlin so it takes me some adjusting and there is perhaps a little jet lag on display but Caitlin has the voice, the songs and soon it's the perfect festival closure (for me) in the sun.
It's nearly seven pm and I regreat having to miss Broken Twin but we head back to the car as the kids are tired and we need to get straight onto the roads to arrive home before midnight. Thankfully we do.
Thank you yet again End of the Road, you do not disappoint.
Normally I have a long-list of potential improvements for next year, with EotR I can think of two. One, organise the beer queues better, perhaps get some Latitude style keep-your-own glasses and two, let me curate a stage!!
Straight on with part two of my acts to see at next weeks End of the Road festival. If you landed on this page and are interested in seeing the first part - you can do so here. I'll keep the writing on the brief side as every act is one I've covered previously. If you want to hear more click on the labels link at the end of the post.
This year the organisers are promising some exciting secret shows (most likely in the woods), so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for them. Also worth checking out amongst the other activities and Comedy/Cinema tents is the Rough Trade stall. They normally have some great others on releases of bands playing the festival, some exclusives and some signings too (can't say I remember any performances last year). There was a pretty cool music art stall last year too.
I'll start the second part of these tips with the most obvious pick of all, Caitlin Rose. Her first show in the UK since early Spring and I can't bloody well wait.
I recently got asked by a friend to describe Caitlin in one word, I replied 'flawless'. I've mentioned her here countless times already, the most recent just the other day so I'll keep that short. Flawless about sums it up to me.
I've not seen The Staves live since last years Latitude festival when they played a beautiful set to a packed tent as rain threatened outside.
At EotR they play the main stage on Sunday afternoon, it seems the perfect setting to grab a couple of beers and to enjoy some of the sisters heart-melting harmonies from last years exquisite Dead & Born & Grown.
I was lucky enough to see Savages four times before the hype really took over and have been smitten since. Silence Yourself delivered on my every expectation and hope, an album of exhilarating brilliance underpinned by darkly atmospheric rhythms, soaring guitars and Jehnny Beth's unique vocal delivery. It's raw, full of passion and utterly compelling throughout.
Live? Well Savages are even better - you'll be wanting to add them to your list of must see artists then.
Broken Twin originally featured here back in June after discovering her via the End of the Road initial line-up, I had this to say about her track "Beaches":
"The sparse, uncluttered instrumentation, little more than gentle acoustic and piano chords, of the opening track “Beaches” instantly send shivers down your spine as you are introduced to the beguiling tone of Majke’s pure, fragile vocals, wrapping you in a calming yet melancholic state of beauty".
One of the few acts I'm listing I've not seen before, Broken Twin promise to deliver a set that should be something pretty special.
One of my early year highlights was Serafina Steer's album launch show (and the album of course). I doubt Jarvis Cocker will be joining Serafina on stage this time around but what I do know is her set will combine fluttering harp solos with soft, delicate melodies that sporadically burst into life with eccentric, left-field instrumentation and soaring highs.
If that sounds good to you too then you'll want to head to the beautiful garden stage on Friday. Leave your chairs at the back.
Last but certainly not least in this little preview are Pins who are gearing up to release their debut album Girls Like Us. I've been following the Manchester quartet right from their debut to their most recently single "Get With Me" and live their show is the perfect continuation of an electric sound combining searing vocals, incessant rhythms and raw, brooding intensity.
Pins will hold your attention like a magnet - make sure you don't miss them.
An album which has criminally managed to stay off many peoples radar this year, perhaps due to the self-released nature of the album, still with support slots alongside Field Music and Wave Machines to come next year word is slowly getting out there about this wonderful duo.
Star Map is genuinely the most beautiful album on this list, the understated ethereal grace which carries the album throughout is one to truly immerse yourself in, a real natural beauty, "Always Golden" perfectly highlights Rebecca Palin's unique, haunting vocal, it's at the forefront throughout with the shimmering electronic beats and delicate key strokes
"Crossfire" is another likely to bring goosebumps to many, for those easily turned on, Star Map should carry a warning sticker, such an effecting beauty, spread the word.
With her captivating presence and exceptional song craft, in my humble opinion, Rachel Sermanni is one of the few who stands out above the current crowd of singer/songwriters, after a couple of EP's highlighting her talent I was delighted that her debut full-length Under Mountains fulfilled all my hearts desires and more.
"Waltz" slowly introduces a full band to accompany Rachel's guitar and sweet vocal tones, the combination creates intoxicating arrangements and strong melodies that stands true for much of Under Mountains. The command and attention to detail throughout the album is exceptional, Rachel in complete control of the flowing vocals and her depth of prose belie her youth.
The dark defiance of "The Fog" and the gorgeous, soothing tones of "Sleep" are all personal favourites too, offering a dozen finely crafted tracks in which Rachel's mesmerising voice resonates above genteel instrumentation and stirring full band sections, Under Mountains is bathed in heartfelt emotion and stunning harmonies, one of the years finest, of that there is no doubt..
By now you think you know what you are getting with I Like Trains, or at least you thought you did. The Leeds based post-rock band have changed things up with their latest album The Shallows, the predominant mood of their previous releases was, shall we say, glum, slow burning, emotive soundscapes with little room for light or hope, sure there were moments in their last "He Who Saw The Deep" where all was not grey but nothing quite like moments on The Shallows...
For how do you say it, "Mnemosyne" sees I Like Trains go disco, not a word that we've come to associate with them but "Mnemosyne" is most definitely funky. Sparse synth lines combine with a bass-line Hot Space era Queen would have been proud of, don't let it scare you off, the signature I Like Trains dynamic is similarly evident, at at their brooding best on "Reykjavik" with Dave Martin's impeccable baritone vocals, shimmering guitars and Simon Fogal's commanding drums and reflective on "Water/Sand" which finds their beautifully thought-out prose at its finest.
"Beacons" is another which glistens with twinkling synths hooks and chiming guitars, it works, I never thought it would but it does, sullen post-rock with a flamboyant electro edge, I like it. The Shallows finds the new I Like Trains as absorbing as ever.
A long time coming some may say, The Staves debut album Dead & Born & Grown is a perfect summation of the girls journey so far, with older tracks "Mexico" and "Facing West" as exquisite as ever, sitting perfectly alongside tracks from the earlier Motherlode EP and newer songs too, much will be said about the sisters rich harmonies and genteel melodies (with good reason), which slowly and luxuriously linger in your brain like a Sunday afternoon with a glass of fine malt whisky.
Highlights are throughout, the a cappella "Wise and slowly" is hymnal perfection, the tender "Pay Us No Mind", like so much of the album, is just beautiful while "Tongue Behind My Teeth" sees the sister take some Americana influences with a kick-drum beat propelling jangling guitar and dusty melodies which sweep and stomp like the outlaw video that accompanies the track.
The Staves blend their heavenly harmonies together as well as any I've previously heard and Dead & Born & Grown is the perfect for the winter months, completely irresistible, don't miss out.
[Previously posted on my Tips of 2012: One Year On post]
Echo Lake have had a year of ups and downs, the tragic news of the death of their drummer Pete Hayes overshadowed everything else but the subsequent empowerment of the band, including fundraisers and emotional tributes only highlighted the togetherness and closeness of the group who earlier in the year released their delightful debut full length Wild Peace.
As beautiful a listen as any album this year, Wild Peace seamlessly fizzes with immersive, shimmering bliss.
Track after track of intoxicating, beyond-luscious melodies in which we find Linda Jarvis' reverberating vocals floating around, highlights are aplenty, from the re-imagining of earlier single "Another Day", the only pure pop tune on display with chiming chords to the rockier "Young Silence" and swirling "In Dreams" (both again reworked from their 2011 EP appearances, starting with a soft tapestry of sounds before rising in intensity to an explosive finale while the gorgeous "Swimmers" is the hazy, dreamy come-down.
Though that's a paragraph that fails to mention the closing track "Just Kids", a seven minute course on how to generate the perfect atmospheric of slowly building wonder or the title track, equally worthy of praise.
Amongst the reasons for my support of the band over the last year is the beautiful, progressive arrangements of their tracks, "Even the Blind" is like a journey in itself, from its dreamy, luxurious outset where Linda's beautiful ethereal coo's, chiming guitars and a metronomic beat purposely lead towards its foot-stomping tempo switch, the drumbeat sees the main shift in intensity in the songs second quarter, hard-hitting and stadium sized they suddenly drop leaving the shimmering textures on a cliff-edge before the track again gathers pace and surges towards its euphoric climax.
To sum up, "Even the Blind" is basically a five minute roller-coaster that's exhilarating, soothing and absolutely wonderful, wild and peaceful, yeah I get that title.
A common complaint about new band blogs (although this blog is a journal of my musical taste, I tend to favour new bands so I guess that description applies) is that they are fickle things, proclaiming a band to be the "saviour of the world" and "the best thing since sliced bread" off two fuzzy demos recorded in their bedroom and then promptly disregarded them before they've even released an album. Positivity and praise is all good in my opinion (a few people I know wouldn't believe that, I'm a right miserable so and so most of the time!) so I'm not adverse to the odd superlative or twenty myself and in this post I'll give a few to a band local to me, who released their debut album this week, Watford's (or a suburb of) very own The Staves.
Since I last talked about the Staveley-Taylor sisters in February they've toured (again) with Bon Iver, gained a shed-load more plaudits and fans and appeared on Jools Holland, not bad from three sisters from old Hertfordshire indeed, 2013 promises to bring even bigger things and festival performances a plenty, from the one I saw this year at Latitude I'll say they've going to be a huge success, what better than delicate instrumentation and being sung to by three heavenly voices to nurse any festival-inflicted wounds.
The album Dead & Born & Grown is a perfect summation of the girls journey so far, with older tracks "Mexico" and "Facing West" as exquisite as ever, sitting perfectly alongside tracks from the Motherlode EP and newer songs too, much will be said about the sisters rich harmonies and genteel melodies (with good reason), which slowly and luxuriously linger in your brain like a Sunday afternoon with a glass of fine malt whisky. Highlights are throughout, the a cappella "Wise and slowly" is hymnal perfection, the tender "Pay Us No Mind", like so much of the album, is just beautiful while "Tongue Behind My Teeth" sees the sister take some Americana influences with a kick-drum beat propelling jangling guitar and dusty melodies which sweep and stomp like the outlaw video that accompanies the track.
The Staves blend their harmonies together as well as any I've previously heard and Dead & Born & Grown is the perfect Winter months album, irresistible, don't miss out. Available on CD/LP now.
Just down the road from me is a town called Watford, if you've been there a few times you'll know it's not exactly going to win many prizes for the best kept town award, though head outside of its concrete centre and there are some lovely, picturesque areas and it's from these that I'd like to think The Staves dwell, three Hertfordshire sisters with an uncanny knack of interweaving intricate guitar arrangements, subdued percussion and to die for vocals with breathtaking results.
The Staves' second EP 'Motherlode' is released April 2nd and will feature three new tracks, the first, the title-track can be streamed below, another flawless track which sees their genteel melodies slowly and luxuriously linger in your brain while their heavenly harmonies sooth your soul. Equally worth your time is the simply gorgeous live performance of "I Try", recorded on their recent US tour you can't help but fall in love with the plaintive, seemingly simplistic, finger-picked ballad, just beautiful.
The girls tour the UK from mid April including a date at London's Tabernacle on May 1st (full dates / tickets).