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Camilla, Emily, and Jessica, better known as The Staves, are three British sisters known for their vocal harmonies and folk goodness. Then, while touring in support of their 2012 debut, the sisters felt a need to do something different. With other European folk acts like First Aid Kit and The Rails sticking with tradition, The Staves went in another direction. They forged a bond with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). The sisters made five trips across the pond to Mr. Vernon's April Base studio in Wisconsin during the late fall and winter months. With Justin Vernon set as the producer, The Staves wrote and recorded their sophomore album, If I Was.

The album can be grouped into sub-styles, with one, deep-running thread- the vocals. There are light twists on folk. Track opener, 'Blood I Bled', weaves acoustic guitar, sparse drums, horns, and strings around a focus on dynamics. But even with this more layered arrangement, the root of folk can still be heard in the warmth. The same can be said about 'Make It Holy'. With a more traditional folk inspired melody and rolling snares, it hearkens to their earlier work.

There are also piano-pop tunes that could fit alongside a Regina Spektor or Sara Bareilles track. The song 'Horizons' has horns flowing over mid-tempo piano. With lyrics, like "Where do I go/ when I want to shut it down?" sung with a more pop-inspired melody line, it is a city song rather than a rustic folk tune. The plays between urban and rural give the album a push and pull effect; key to making sure there are limited stagnant moments.

Then there is the single, 'Black and White'. This may be the biggest leap the sister's have made sonically. With heavy, syncopated drums, a jangly electric guitar, and sharp backing harmonies, this song is more rock than anything else. But there is care in the arrangement. They didn't just throw in distortion and call it a day. The track is not heavy because of lumbering instrumentation, but rather, for the lack-there-of. The voids that aren't filled add weight.

If I Was is a studio album through and through. The tracks 'Damn It All' and closer, 'Sadness Don't Own Me', use instrumentation requiring a steady ear and studio know-how. They are beautifully composed ballads that show maturity. As Justin Vernon put it, The Staves "immediately were able to make their wings wide in the space. Their musical and vocal and songwriting abilities were very poised for something like this." Throughout, the vocals are natural and organic which allowed an artistic endeavour like If I Was to even take shape. Growth is the life force of any artist. If I Was is proof of this.

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This review was submitted by 405 User Luke Summers on March 27th - he awarded it a 7/10. As is tradition with user reviews, nothing has been edited, or removed.

The Staves released their first record three years ago as the explosion of early decade folk continued. With the release of their second LP the band have attempted to expand their sound and mellow their lyrics. Naturally any artist wants to progress but maybe the single biggest challenge for any songwriter is how to experiment and evolve without losing their original sound and alienating their fanbase.

This time around they have ditched the sweet ukulele and acoustic sounds that made their first album and instead have added towering drumbeats and guitar riffs. "Black and White" starts acapella, aided only by drums before the electric guitars come in and the song reaches its crescendo, whilst second track "Steady" is powered by a rolling snare drum sound which was actually created using a necklace.

The sisters haven't completely abandoned their acoustic sound. Set to subtle guitar work perhaps "Make It Holy" is the most candid song they've written. The lyrics speak of a wistful reconciliation: "It's all worn out now, but I never did wrong, did I ever do you wrong? and I could make you want me, make you need me, make you mine, I could make it holy, make it special, make it right".

This melancholy and contemplative tone is continued in "Sadness Don't Own Me Anymore" and "No Me, No You, No More", where the band let their vocal and lyrical abilities take centre stage with only gentle pianos and humming in the background.

Working with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon in his remote Wisonsin studio, the band found their new direction after a year of solid touring. The sisters drew inspiration from nature and allowed themselves to express and explore new sounds during their stay with Vernon at April Base Studios in snowy Eau Claire.

The album's two real highlights are opener "Blood I Bled" which starts quietly before it building into a euphoric crescendo of strings and harmonies, the layers merging into a beautiful wall of sound.

The words on "Let Me Down" point to personal frustration: "On and on, ever the foolish one, who says what he wants, but he wants what he can't understand" and as the instruments make way during the last minute of the song for an angelic three part harmony it would not be exaggerating to rank these girls from Watford as some of the greatest vocalists of our time.