It’s a long way from Watford to Wisconsin, both geographically and metaphorically. The Stavely-Taylor sisters are associates of The Mumfords, which is enough to set anyone’s teeth/ears on edge. However, they are probably more authentic than Fat Dave’s other faves, First Aid Kit. I’ll take a score draw anyday. This is their sophomore collection, recorded in Bon Iver’s house. Like a shack in the backwoods, it’s steady, dependable, but rough round the edges.
It’s probably classed as folk, but it’s an album that reaches out for an alternative edge. It’s attempting to be an American pastoral record with a British feel. It works best on tracks like ‘Damn It All’, with it’s Vangelis-like synth washes; or the singles ‘Blood I Bled’ and ‘Black And White’. The Staves can actually sing, the harmonies are lovely and recorded live in the studio.
Where the album falls down in the field is that the material is pretty samey. Sometimes you need more than beautifully-crafted break-up music. The lyrics can be occasionally beautiful (“Heavy hands scupper the best laid plans”), but they are quite often atrociously bad. ‘The Shining’ rhymes “counter” and “limonata”, then “coffee” and “lobby”. It references Kubrick. Yes, sound. But what is this song actually about?
There is a superficiality to the songs that is mildly startling. ‘Teeth White’ is about looking good. However, The Staves are around the same age as Laura Marling, a 25 year old with the worldview of a 2,500 year old wizard and the skill of a poet. Having a decent dentist is probably low on her list of priorities. They need to dig deeper, feel more, reflect more.
The album ends with ‘Sadness Don’t Own Me’, an “oh well, never mind” sort of song. It’s an acceptable debut; the potential is there for greater things in the future. It’s OK to travel to backwoods Wisconsin, but one should never get stuck mid-Atlantic.
If I Was is out now via Atlantic Records.