The Staves- Facing West- Track Review



Track Review:






   The Staves  






Facing West



The Staves












It would be axiomatic to say that the trio's voices are stunning.  The Watford girls' folk rock melodies will leave you spellbound.









Facing West is available at:

The album Dead & Born & Grow is available at:


THE art of the voice; vocal blending and eliciting the maximum.....


 amount of emotion and evocation, from the voice alone, is extremely difficult.  In today's music scene atmosphere and mood and conjured up primarily through sound: pure force some moments; paradigm-shifting sometimes.  When considering how to go about grabbing an audience, bands and solo acts are always faced with the same issues.  Originality is a concern: how can you make your music and words be recognised, without being lumped together with too many other artists?  It is an aspect of music that I have provided a lot of derision and anger towards; with regards to a lack of originality.  A second concern, or problematic, lays at the creative feet as well: how to use the talent I/we have, and utilise it to its most potent potential?  For a lot of the bands on the scene at the moment, vocals are given little overall consideration, when considering these issues.  I have been concerned recently that a great deal of band leaders, and singers in bands (as well as solo acts) are treading familiar ground, when deciding on a vocal course.  In the north, and around Manchester and Liverpool, there is still an unnerving tendency for bands to play it too close to their idols.  The number of times I have heard a vocal emanate forth, that was the spitting image of Alex Turner, Liam Gallagher or Ian Brown (for instance), has left me bewildered.  Whilst there is a temptation to employ natural and well-tested weaponry into your arsenal, if it has been heard numerous times before, then how are you going to capture the imagination?  Bands in Scotland and the south of England have been less culpable of this bludgeoning.  I have been invigorated and tantalised by Scottish acts such as Universal Thee, Steve Heron and many of their contemporaries.  Down towards the south- and if fact in Yorkshire- folks such as Rose and the Howling North, Marc and Abi and Annie Drury have been presenting motifs infused with unique strands.  Considerations as a whole, away from the vocal parapet, are given to sonic evocations and presentation: creating energy and wonder with the music itself.  Riffs and heavy percussion is abound in the indie/rock markets; lilting guitars and piano flourishes can be associated heavily with pop/folk; whereas the best of the rest try to marry the two facets into their overall sound.  It seems that vocals are used primarily as a way to get the words across.  I may be missing out of some wonders and stunning singers, but from what I have collated and reviewed, the same old story is told- which gets a little bit depressing.  Vocal harmonies, and folk rock choral are a much-needed and very underrated element.  The likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash; the '70s legends, showed that by blending their incredible voices together, they could add extra weight to their songs.  Whilst each member has an incredible voice separately; it is when they are infused together that the best results are unveiled.  Of course the trio are still performing today, and contemporaries such as Fleet Foxes are also great examples of the male folk-vocal parable.  Aside from the obvious examples of the breed, one has to dig very, very deep (in today's scene as well as historically), to find groups that can match the aforementioned legends.


Although, with all that said, you get groups that make it through; meaning you do not have to dig all that hard.  The Staves have been in the back of my mind for a while now: flicking to the surface over recent weeks.  I have been a follower for a while, but have only just started to give concentrated study to their songs.  The three piece have been performing together for quite a few years now.  The three girls are all alluring and incredibly striking to behold; especially Jessica, whom is one of the most stunning women anywhere- not just music.  Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor have been playing local gigs since they were teenagers (today Jessica is 25 years old; Emily 29; Camilla is 23); playing open-mic nights at pubs in their native Watford.  From the fledgling days of performing together, they pricked the ears of money, and caught the attention of record execs. and music-lovers alike.  The Staveley-Taylor household was awash with music, from Bob Dylan to Crosby, Stills and Nash; and, although their parents are not musicians, they clearly instilled a fond love of music into the sisters.  Having grown up in an environment that was bathed in '60s and '70s folk magic, it is unsurprising that the girls took their messages to hard and wanted to follow in the footsteps of their musical idols.  In interview they come off as self-depreciating and filled with bawdy and good-natured humour alike (occasionally it has bridled American audiences; not attuned to our English sensibilities).  Their writing process is alternately truncated, unpredictable and tumultuous.  Songs are conceived, written; sometimes reworked and reimagined; before eventually a final product is arrived upon.  It is a process which seems to suit the trio, and yet is something that they are still working on: trying to increase any wrinkles from their work patterns.  The Staves run a democracy as well: whomever writes the lion-share of a track, gets the chance to sing it.  Whilst comparisons have been drawn with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, the girls find being compared to others, somewhat odd.  They- as well as I- share a love of Laura Marling, and are flattered to be mentioned in the same breath.  Whilst, at this present time, they are embarking upon their own U.S. tour, taking in the likes of Seattle and Los Angeles later this month, they feel just at home playing in England.  On their Facebook page they list some of their influences: Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Martha Wainwright rank amongst them.  As much as they are inspired by them, yet have their own unique sound and style, they quote Jim Jarmusch, whom states: "Nothing is original... originality is non-existent".  However you assuage any misgiving about the likes of The Staves, and surrender to their charms and heady blends; I guarantee that you will- no matter how hardy and determined you are.  For all the '60s and '70s folk groups such as Crosby, Still and Nash and modern-day equivalents, there have certainly not been many that have hailed from the U.K., and the girls are doing us very proud indeed.  They spoke with The Guardian last November, saying that- due to the group being very much leaderless- choosing the likes of track listings and band photos was exhausting and stressful.  In spite of the day-to-day decisions, they have worked tirelessly, and bring their sounds and sensations as far and wide as possible: gaining themselves huge international ardour.  Their sounds may hint at American climbs, and more rural locales; hardly a shock considering their musical background, but something they are keen to state is fictionalised: they have no desire to live in log cabins in Vermont, nor do so now.  Off of the back of a couple of E.P. releases, as well as some high-profile live appearances in the interim, the album Dead & Born & Grow, was released last November.   Tracks such as Mexico, and Wisely & Slow have already gained huge praise; with the girls alternating as the lead singer.  It is the Camilla-fronted track Facing West, that is on a lot of people's lips and minds right now.


On YouTube, the song has already amassed 419,000 reviews (at the time of this review); with most commentators highlighting the track's ethereal beauty and otherworldly prepossessions.  Building up from some breezy and smiling ukuleles, the track begins with a reverent breeze and wandering soul.  It is a mesmeric proposition which builds from there; as soon as the vocal arrives, you are already relaxed and swimming in the song.  Early evocations of: "A room with a window facing west/Towards the sea" suggests a peace-filled and sedate landscape (Somewhere in the U.K.?  Sunnier, foreign climbs perhaps?), Facing West is possessed of a tender and passion-filled heart.  The vocal is pin sharp and crystalline; certain words are elongated and syncopated, reminding me slightly of Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond.  Like the U.S. singer, The Staves' commander-elect has the ability to make you pull your ears towards the speakers; desperate to get closer and nearer to where she is.  Imagery of seaside tranquilly and sunsets fills your thoughts, as you can imagine our heroine sitting by a pier, feet draping over the edge; gazing towards the ocean and letting its tranquillity take her mind.  The way that the girls combine in the chorus, elicits reminiscences of the likes of The Andrews Sisters, Caro Emerald and a plateau of doo-wop, swing and '40s/'50s vibes.  The Staves update that sound for modern times, yet still have wonderful shades of harmony groups of old, as well as the folk masters of the '70s.  When the voice blend and weave in and out of one another, the line "I don't think I can do this anymore" is sung; hinting at some anxieties, fears and doubts perhaps?  Whether the girls have based the themes of the song around personal experience: the nature of home; love-gone-wrong, or something else, the conviction that is behind the line, takes you slightly aback.  For all the diamond shine of the vocal purity, there is heartache and uncertainty underneath, which gives the track broad emotion and a great range of moods.  As well as All Things Will Unwind-era My Brightest Diamond, there is a little of I Speak Because I Can Marling; wrapped around sparks of Deja Vu-esque Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: one can experience the same shivers you get from hearing Teach Your Children, for example.  Every word is backed by the ukulele and guitar: kept measured and subtle; employed to augment the majesty of the vocal.  Into the second verse, and the sense of longing as well as dislocation, pervades.  An unnamed beau is left to "watch me as I come/Walking through the door", as our protagonist, and Siren sisters choose to "take the high road that he walked/Once before".  Throughout everything, there is a lingering sense of mystery and intrigue: are we hearing something akin to a break-up, or is something more contended lurking at heart?  Whistles, wordless vocals and coos are played in after the second verse, adding to the serene and stillness of the track, and helping to add wind to the sails, of the sailboat in your mind (or is that just me then?).  Our heroine, has a final thought: "Show me the path down to the shoreline 'case/I don't know if I can do this anymore"; Jessica and Emily back Camilla's lead exquisitely, really making your hairs stand on end.  I mentioned- half-jokingly- that they had a Siren quality, but is it is not fat-fetched.  The trio's voices are alluring and sensuous, and can bring boats to the shores that our heroine walks towards.  As the song ends and trails off into the dusk, its beauty has captured you wholly.  Facing West is a mandate from a trio that are assured, confident, tight and incredibly memorable.  For those whom usually would not 'go for' this type of music and song; think again: it transcends reticence and pre-conceptions.  As well as being a perfect antidote for any sour disposition or rainy landscape, the song is filled with so much tenderness, gentleness and purity that it is impossible not to be transfixed by its gravity, and transported to warm and pleasant climbs.


I have studied the Dead & Born & Grown album, and several things ring true.  The girls have a sharp ear and eye for lyrics; infusing their songs with detailed and evocative scenes (In The Long Run is one of my favourites), whereas, in the case of Tongue Behind My Teeth and Mexico; here are flipsides to love and the issue of trust: the former, a scathing and vengeful track aimed at a wrong-doing man; the latter an honest and open love song filled with tenderness. Songs bursting with changing landscapes and dangers (The Motherlode) mingle alongside tales of moving on and waiting for good to occur (Gone Tomorrow).  Like Marling, The Staves are skilled and applaud able lyricists; where as Marling may err towards the more oblique and detached, The Staves are more direct and honest; yet able to mix metaphors and mystical and historical landmarks (check out the album's swansong Eagle Song).  The music is delicate the one moment, and emotive and epic the next; yet does not rely on huge electric strings and percussion: guitar and light strings are favoured and liberally integrated.  Overall,  striking and earnest words, combined with gorgeous and touching compositions team to create 12 stunning tracks.  I know the girls ache and have sweated hugely over the track listing, but in the case of the album; they have got it right!  They have managed to arrange the tracks so that a perfect emotional balance is struck, so not too many 'slower' songs follow one another; they are arranged so that pace and momentum are just right, and intrigue and attention is held right until the end.  Obviously one cannot- and should not- ignore the voices of all the girls.  Each has their own unique style and timbre, able to give certain songs their own special weight and appeal.  As strong as each of our trio are when acting as soloists, it is when the harmonies are created, that the grandest shivers and smiles are created.  In today's scene, there are plenty of female singers with soft, gentle and stunning voices; yet most are let down by either pedestrian and predictable songs (take a bow Gabrielle Aplin); or weak lyrics or below-par elements.  This year sees Laura Marling galvanise her sound to its absolute peak, having relocated to the U.S.; K.T. Tunstall has turned in her strongest album yet, and the aftertastes and smoke of Adele still remains strong in most people's minds.  So few new groups in general (not just female-only) tend to be underwhelming or incapable of remaining in the memory; yet The Staves are a band whom leave indelible marks in your brain: you will be hearing the vocal chills of Facing West for weeks to come!  They have travelled (figuratively and literally) a long way in a few short years, and have won hearts and minds in the U.S., as well as on our shores.  It will be interesting to see what moves are made next.  Whether another album is beckoning; a possible E.P., or whether the girls will take a break; recollect their thoughts; rest their tired bones, and figure out their future plans.  So tempting must it be to ride the current crest of fervour they have amassed, and rush back into the studio (after their tour of course), yet Facing West, as well as its sister album, is a record that stands up to repeated onslaughts and listens, and will reveal new layers each time you listen.  The Staves have few like-minded contemporaries, and certainly no close competition, so it is advisable that you a) investigate thoroughly Dead & Born & Grow, and b) get used to them being around for a long time to come.  In a year and era where new acts are given little short or long-term consideration by record labels, and fans; and where their appeal and sensation is often fleeting, it is refreshing and pleasing that The Staves will be around for many years to come.  Take a note new talent; because as the girls have deftly proved:


HITTING the right notes, can ensure a permanent place in your heart.