Review: The Staves – Facing West EP

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3.5

Every piece of writing about The Staves compares them to Laura Marling. I’ve never listened to Laura Marling so I cannot vouch for this. But listening to their new EP Facing West immediately put me in mind of The Roches, with their three part-harmonies over gentle but effective guitar strumming, except that they have a lot less snark and attitude than The Roches.

Stylistically, The Staves seem to be located in that same area of vaguely English folk-meets-Civil War era Americana which seems to be the go-to thing for bands in the recent folk revival, with varying degrees of authenticity, (e.g. the dominant colour on their website is faded brown).  Like so many of these bands, the music of The Staves arguably lacks real bite, although it possesses more so than say, that of the inoffensive Admiral Fallow, whose music sounds like the soundtrack to a Victorian picnic somewhere.

That said, the line between blandness and hazy atmosphere can be a thin one, and the first track on this EP, What Good Am I, falls into the latter camp, just, kept afloat by an ascending guitar line that hovers in the air like sunlight, and a subtle, echoing, swaying backing vocal. Whichever particular Stave is doing the lead vocal here does a great job too. She delivers the song, a seeming meditation on feelings of fundamental dissatisfaction with one’s place in life, in a voice that is pretty and gentle yet strong, more reflective than miserablist. It is really quite lovely, and it feels real. It isn’t exactly ‘exciting’, but it is very engaging.

I found the other two tracks, Facing West and Rain City, to be very pleasant and well-made, but neither grabbed me like the first. There is nothing here to dislike but little to hold the attention once it’s been captured. Facing West could definitely grow on me, with its droning accordion and whistling solo. I get the distinct feeling I am selling the EP short. A lot of people will really enjoy it, and The Staves already seem to have built a following that includes Bon Iver in their number. Good for them.

Timothy Richards