Review: The Staves – The Motherlode

The Staves sound like three early Laura Marlings singing together. I’m sure it must get really annoying, as three individuals writing new, lovely music, to be constantly compared to just one person. It’s like saying that Laura Marling is a good as three people, or that their combined effort will only ever match the output of one single person, i.e., they’re each one quite good third of a brilliant person. That’s not what I mean at all. Sorry, Staves. What I mean is that the lilting, effortless guitar and beautiful harmonies are not unlike the more subdued tracks of Marling’s debut album. When you’ve got versatile female voices, singing clever lyrics in British accents, it’s an inevitable comparison. But I’ll stop talking  about that now because it’s a bit redundant really, isn’t it?

The Motherlode EP is the latest release from The Staves. Three songs in length, just like the previous Mexico EP, it’s a very subtle and careful exercise in restrained experimentation. Not three to mess with a good thing, they have a definite vibe which hasn’t changed; folky ladies sitting in a meadow, singing occasionally melancholy and occasionally upbeat, clap- friendly songs. The eponymous first track is a definitely head-nodder. The Staves have a slightly unpredictable way with lyrics. Sometimes they are witty and wry, but sometimes they are  disappointingly vague lines about secrets in generic countryside locations, as in the title track.  Still, we can forgive them this, because the sounds they make are just so bloody great.

The second track, Pay Us No Mind, introduces the first electric guitar we have heard them use, and it sounds good. Y’know, moody, edgy, a little bluesy. The understated but intelligent lyrics will cause raised eyebrows and empathetic chuckles from cynical women listeners. Oh, men, you are so wise and great. We are fools. We bow down to your excellence etc. etc.

The final track on the EP, Wisely And Slow, is an absolute gem. Going a capella is always a bit risky,  because it will never sound as gorgeously weird as when Elliott Smith did it, nor will it ever sound as engineered and note perfect as…Sister Act (really sorry for that limping, anaemic excuse for a reference). The Staves aren’t far off the perfection mark with this, though. The strength of their voices has never been showcased in this way, and the blend of the skilfully written vocal lines is blissful. Get the EP just for this track. It’s so lovely, it’s actually a bit heartbreaking.

Anna Byrne