Choral group The Staves have made some waves in the music scene the last couple years. Their output includes a collaboration with Bon Iver, performing his powerful track “Heavenly Father” at the Sydney Opera House (they’ve also toured with him on several trips around the world), as well as backing vocals for artists such as Tom Jones and Fionn Regan, who have relied on the sisters’ blend of modern and traditional styles of singing to bring new elements to their music.
Recently they paired up with New York chamber ensemble yMusic to record a collaborative album called “The Way is Read.” For those who are wondering what such a mashup of styles might sound like, this album is the appropriate soundtrack. Powerful and twisting in equal measure, “The Way is Read” holds its beauty trapped in moments of time amidst sometimes chaotic, sometimes hauntingly beautiful, instrumental wandering.
Four full-length albums in, the sisters Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Stavely-Taylor have truly discovered and explored past the limitations of their own sound. With the help of the experimental-leaning yMusic, who just recently worked with The Tallest Man on Earth on his latest EP, the band aims to find new territory on “The Way is Read.”
The album starts off with the soft, enchanting vocals of a cappella opener “Hopeless.” On this track The Staves play around inside of their usual style. As expected, they find a balanced sound somewhere between pitch-perfect and edgy, injecting just enough individuality to honor the roots of their music.
Second track “Take Me Home” is where the trouble starts. yMusic charges into a busy and jarring composition that seems a bit ambitious for its own good. The song charges on with fast lines from the chamber group, and when The Staves finally enter the picture it becomes even less cohesive, their vocal inflections just not fitting into the complex puzzle piece of the song.
“Trouble on My Mind” more than makes up for the awkwardness of the previous track. It’s the perfect match between the vocal style of The Staves and yMusic’s meandering chamber musings. At times the trio of sisters sing along with the instruments, then at other moments wander off, finding a lingering, beautiful tension between instrument and voice. A single singer rises with “And you know it when it” before joining in harmony on “comes and goes in a way.” The golden sound of their voices together absolutely breaks the heart.
“All My Life” improves upon the effect the collaborators seemed to be looking for on “Take Me Home.” The balance between orchestration and voice seems effortless on the track. When The Staves enter with “Oh, my love / Never been so here before / Never known the way before / Never seen it in all of my love,” it feels like an organic sprouting from the instrumental introduction.
The Staves and yMusic find some exquisite beauty on rest of the album. “Silent Side” is a short but gorgeous track. “Courting Is a Pleasure” plays delightfully with dissonance and ambiance to create a surprisingly lovely sound. “Appetite” has the melody and disposition of a cutesy folk-pop song, but I can’t help but be drawn in by its wide-eyed, innocent feel.
The album is at its best when The Staves exhibit their powerful melodic musings backed by an inspired yMusic. “Sprig of Thyme” is incredible in its balance of unusual orchestration and the traditional feel of The Staves’ voicings, and stands out as one of the album’s best.
“The Way is Read” is now available for digital download and on vinyl. Check out The Staves on tour in Australia next year.