In a recent interview, The Staves rallied against early expectations put upon them by the industry, who wanted the band of sisters to be ‘sad, frail girls with long wavy hair.’ On their new album ‘Good Woman’ they challenged themselves to expand their sonic horizons and free themselves from their pretty, polished past.
Title track Good Woman is a statement of intent for the album and for life really. The emphasis here is that to be ‘good’ is a verb, something you do, something you strive for, something you own, not just something you just are automatically. That sense of trying and striving for better informs their new artistic direction. On this song, and across the whole album, they use a variety of cool sounds and effects that build the vocals towards beautiful crescendos. You can hear echoes of Feist in the inventive layering and use of the upper vocal range (the penultimate track Trying is a good example of this style).
Limitations are stripped away on Best Friend, where relationships become exciting and adventurous like the music. ‘I could be anything that I wanted’, they sing and you feel it in the way the song builds and runs in unexpected directions. Careful, Kid aims for something distorted and rough, a wall of sound which is loud and insistent rather than abrasive. The song works as a warning, a note to the selfish, maybe even to the self.
Next Year, Next Time starts with acoustic guitars but they are soon faded into a more inventive mix, by the end you are dancing in a woozy and hazy delight. They continue with the simpler, acoustic sound on Nothing’s Gonna Happen grounding the album and giving us a moment of quiet. There’s something about a sister trio singing together that seems to offer as much tension as harmony, a familiarity which gives freedom to explore without fear.
Sparks explores love and grief, flush with sadness and longing eventually becoming an outpouring of joy and celebration. Songs like Failure, Paralysed and Satisfied try and work out the pain, to find a way forward through the tribulations of identity and relationships.
Maybe the only misstep here is Devotion, as its snap beats might be a step too far for some indie folk fans. Still it’s not like they have gone pop or for Jack Antonoff levels of sonic modernity – you can still feel the organic nature of the music and hear how it would work live.
The album finishes on piano with Waiting on Me to Change, and admission and acceptance of the fact that we’re all trying to change, to improve at our own speed, even if it’s a struggle sometimes.
Good Woman is a really enjoyable and inventive album which surprised me in its scope and ambition. Sometimes the unexpected journeys turn out to be the most rewarding.