After two years on the road, the Staveley-Taylor sisters return in October with their first studio offering since their well received debut, 'Dead & Born & Grown'. The 'Blood I Bled' EP is a tantalising sample of their second album, primarily as it's the first material they've unveiled that features Bon Iver's Justin Vernon on production duties. The resulting three songs are well worth the price of admission and point to a significant step forward for The Staves.
No longer just channelling their beloved English Folk roots, the Watford trio have embraced a more complicated sound that suits their mesmerising three-part harmonies. Vernon's fingerprints are unsurprisingly evident from the outset and, by carefully balancing his instrumental guidance with the vocals, The Staves have produced something rather special. The purpose of an EP release such as this is to build anticipation for a subsequent album, and in that regard it's job done.
'Open' slowly introduces the familiar harmonies with a melancholy mood ("You say we don't do much talking"), backed with a solitary acoustic guitar. However, before long a drum machine, strings and piano have joined the mix to great effect. It's a memorable combination that maintains its fundamental folk sensibility, but expands it into something rather unique. While it could be argued that perhaps The Staves are relying too heavily on Vernon's production (it's unmistakably reminiscent of Bon Iver), I'd actually argue that's a positive thing; it elevates the song beyond the rather niche sound that presided on much of the sisters' debut album.
Similarly, the horns that echo the vocals on the title track succeed in propelling the song towards a string section that's a real joy to listen to. But perhaps the most significant contribution from Vernon is the final track 'America'. As the title suggests, the sisters have incorporated a more transatlantic sensibility into their music. While the vocal occasionally seems almost oddly reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel, the instrumentation is soaked in nostalgia thanks to Vernon's band and a rather effective viola drone and harp. It's testament to the work the Staves have put into broadening their sound, and all the more effective because of it.
If the rest of their forthcoming album hits the same level of quality, The Staves could see themselves moving further into the limelight. Yes, much of that will be down to Justin Vernon's guidance on these new songs but, ultimately, he doesn't eclipse the Staveley-Taylor sisters' talents. This EP is very much theirs and they deserve the plaudits it will earn them. If bands like First Aid Kit are capable of capturing a broader audience, it looks like The Staves are headed in the same direction.
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