It’s been a pretty amazing day. We started bright and early in Kelowna, BC and after an incredible All-U-Can Eat waffle breakfast at local Jammery, we road-tripped 785 kilometers across the Rocky Mountains through Yoho and Banff National Parks, stopping for a scenic hike at Wapta Falls, all the way here to Calgary, Alberta. The scenic is breathtaking. However, the funny thing is, after seeing deer nearly every day in Kelowna (honestly, these things are everywhere – grazing on front lawns, standing on city corners, crossing at intersections – shit, I have expected to see them queuing in line at Starbucks for frappuccinos), the only wildlife I saw for the entire seven hour drive was a crow, a goat and the backside of an elf. Whoopee shit.
I also endured a near Fletcher Christian style mutiny in the van as my passengers rebelled at having to listen to the Jam On station on Sirius XM satellite; culture-less rubes. It seems like the only bit of technology that they didn’t have instantly at their fingertips (ie. my radio) was the thing that they needed to also have control over; not that any of them were really listening with their noses pressed into their cell phones anyway. But I digress; classic case of wanting what you can’t have I guess.
Anyway, the girls are zonked out now in the hotel room but I’m still wired from the drive so I’ve retired down to the hotel lobby to read a few more pages of my book, sip at a salvaged can of Okanagan Lager and listen to this ‘If I Was‘ album by The Staves.
Somebody has definitely lit a fire under The Staves’ porch. The sister trio from the UK normally construct daydreams that trail along somewhere between The Corrs’ syrupy harmonies and early ’70s American folk, but here, they bite. ‘If I Was’ pushes into the rotten heart of moving on from heartbreak, aided by a producer who is a master of heartache himself, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. One look at the song titles here, and it’s like you’re passing someone the match they’ll use to burn old love letters: ‘No Me, No You, No More‘, ‘Damn It All‘, and ‘Sadness Don’t Own Me‘. Unlike ‘Dead & Born & Grown’, the Staves’ 2012 debut, this album is 43 minutes of emotional pulverization. Maybe not what I was initially looking for this evening but, hey, it’s still enjoyable listening.
The album was released in March of last year (2015) on Nonesuch Records. The album was recorded in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at Vernon’s April Base Studios – a former veterinary clinic where he also recorded his 2012 self-titled Bon Iver album. The trio has since spent much of the past three years touring the world, including opening spots with the Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, and Bon Iver. In these new songs, the girls examine their seemingly endless touring by imagining what they have left behind rather than writing about endless highways, hotel rooms, and what they see in front of them. “The amount of time we’ve spent away from home has affected all our relationships,” states Emily. “And I don’t just mean boyfriends, but relationships with family and close friends and wider groups of mates, who you just have to get used to never seeing. It can be difficult. Writing about it all is necessary therapy in making sense of quite an unconventional life.” That definitely resonates in these songs.
Opener ‘Blood I Bled‘ builds nicely over some military styled drumming and immediately sets the tone for the next forty minutes. ‘No Me, No You‘ is the album’s most ethereal moment – a master class in understatement which magically bleeds into following number ‘Let Me Down‘, another highlight. ‘Black And White‘ is a superb single ironically much closer to the likes of The Black Keys or Jack White (a name homage, perhaps?) than the group’s usual sound. All jagged garage-rock guitar and pounding drum work – indeed, more rock from these girls would be a welcome thing. A passionate and slow building ‘Sadness Don’t Own Me‘ ends things, it’s piano ditty leading one last set of ear pleasing melodies and background sounds.
Overall this is an album to be enjoyed in its entirety and proves a much more rewarding experience when doing so. I suggest doing just as I am doing, grab a comfy chair, wait for dusk and lose yourself completely. And, hey, if you play it through your earbuds nobody will be none the wiser and bitch at you to change it to something else.