Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Staves release astonishing new folk album 'Good Woman'

The Staves released their newest album Good Woman this past Friday on a very rainy day where I was. When I tell you this album made my day please believe me. This album is damn good.

The Staves are a sister trio who made their mark on the folk scene with their unique blend of vocals and harmony. I think most people can agree that there’s something special that happens when family members sing together and if there wasn’t proof before, The Staves are proof positive. But it’s not just the harmonies that draw a person in, it’s the songs themselves. 

Watching their musical journey this album was always going to be good. From their beginnings with very acoustic, stripped back folk songs, to their later work with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon where they started enhancing their songs with synth blends, this album is a culmination of their work and another stop on their upwards trajectory.

Some instrumental use nods to their folk roots and the harmonies carry through, however this album is much more extroverted than anything The Staves have done before. Previous music had a very close and intimate feel which was magic in its own way but this album is, for lack of a better term, louder. Part of this extroversion comes from teaming up with producer John Congleton later on in the process. 

Known for his more robust and rougher production (producing for instance on some Sharon van Etten tracks), it’s a miracle really that these sounds blend so well. ‘Careful, Kid’ is an especially stark contrast between the heavy sounds of Congleton’s production and The Staves’ softer vocals. The songs themselves are strong enough to carry any amount of production though: the heart-breaking harmonies, the excellent lyricism and the intrinsic talent for constructing a song form an excellent base for producers to leave their mark.

Opening with the title song ‘Good Woman’ was a genius move. It primes the listener by introducing all major elements that are used throughout the album. They start straight in with the dreamy ethereal harmonies they are known for, without sacrificing the more upbeat tempo of the song: a song about being considered a societally ‘good’ woman. You can hear the frustration in their voices but the vocals never lose their skill and the impressive range. ‘Best Friend’ is a great addition to any upbeat indie playlist, it’s light-hearted in its construction, certain elements reminding me of Jonsi or Imogen Heap, which I think is partially the work of Congleton’s production.

It’s later on in the album where the folk roots start to appear a bit more. ‘Next Year, Next Time’ is the first glimpse we catch, however still airing more on the side of synths. It’s also through this song that I was made aware of how good the band is at translating really heart-wrenching topics into palatable 4 minute songs. Songs like ‘Satisfied’ or ‘Devotion’ are great examples of this for instance. That hopelessness of being trapped in a relationship that doesn’t give is made palatable with their blends of a catchy downbeat and stripped back instrumentation, building towards full arrangements to close out the songs. ‘Failure’ is another wonderful example of this. A song about the hypocrisy of being criticized by a partner and finding that they’re the failure as much as anyone is: the anger in the lyrics is blended well with a dreamier sound, dulling the pain of how relatable this song really is.

A note that carries through the entirety of this album is one of hope. Hope and optimism win out, and one gets the sense that this album was a transformative experience for The Staves. Some of the songs serve as therapeutic. Listening to ‘Nothing’s Gonna Happen’, ‘Paralyzed’, or ‘Trying’ which are all songs about coming to terms with a destructive force in a partner, you get the impression these were cathartic both for The Staves and to anyone who ends up listening to them. It’s especially noticeable in these songs because the vocals all feel very close, harkening perhaps to earlier work by The Staves: that intimacy that everyone grew to love.

A special mention goes out to their closing track ‘Waiting On Me To Change’. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the best closes I’ve heard in a very long time. Everything from the chord progression, to the dreamy production, to the hopeful message of change and self-acceptance is done so well. It’s my favorite by far.

I know no one wants to sit down and listen to a whole album start to finish anymore and these songs are definitely strong enough to stand alone. But if you have a spare 45 minutes, this album is wonderful, start to finish, and deserves all the recognition it’s gotten and will continue to get.  

- Chloe Boehm



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