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Album Review: The Staves and yMusic – The Way is Read

 
By on Wednesday, 13th December 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

The Way is Read coverIf you’re a longtime reader of TGTF, you’re surely familiar with Watford folk trio The Staves. Known offstage as Emily, Camilla and Jessica Staveley-Taylor, these close-knit sisters and their signature vocal harmonies have been featured here often over the past several years. You might be less familiar with their recent collaborators, New York instrumental ensemble yMusic, comprising violinist Rob Moose, violist Nadia Sirota, cellist Gabriel Cabezas, clarinettist Hideki Aomori, flautist Alex Sopp, and trumpeter CJ Camerieri.

yMusic have made a name for themselves by consciously overstepping the artistic boundary between classical and pop music, on projects with Ben Folds, José González and Son Lux, to name but a few. On their new album ‘The Way is Read’, The Staves and yMusic have added traditional vocal harmonies to the modern classical palette, crafting an opus beyond the simple confines of orchestrally-arranged folk songs.

Commissioned by Justin Vernon’s Eaux Claires festival as a live performance piece, ‘The Way is Read’ was never intended to be a simple project. “Our aim from the outset was to truly collaborate with yMusic,” says Emily Staveley-Taylor. “We wanted to feel like instruments and join in with some of yMusic’s existing work, using our voices in ways we hadn’t previously explored. We chopped up compositions and put them together again in new ways. We took old folk songs and made them abstract.” yMusic’s Rob Moose continues: “It was as much a thrill to hear songs emerge organically over sections of intricate chamber music as it was satisfying to strip songs of the instrument that created them, whether guitar or piano, in order to craft new connective tissue.”

‘The Way is Read’ represents the first time an Eaux Claires collaboration has resulted in a full studio recording. The album is truly a large scale orchestral work, rather than a set of  discrete songs. Its individual tracks meld into each another without pause, continuously evolving both the musical ideas and the thematic concepts. Still, some the tracks work as standalone pieces and have been individually released. Following the kaleidoscopic harmony vocals of ‘Hopeless’ and the dramatic instrumental intro to ‘Take Me Home’, the gentle introspection of ‘Trouble on My Mind’ is more lyrically substantial, though hardly concrete in its narrative. It begins with the repeated title line and evolves to a chilling end: “and you know it when it holds you under a wave / cold and dying / moving in reverse, slow motion.”

The cinematic ‘All My Life’ evokes a crisp, cold winter scene, mingling sensory effects both in its lyrics (“never known the heaven in night / or the sound of the Northern Lights”) and in its dark harmonic twists. By contrast, ‘Silent Side’ is calmer and more tranquil, its refrain “you are my silent side” serving as a panacea to the album’s pervasive chill. ‘Courting is a Pleasure’ and ‘Sprig of Thyme’ are traditionally structured folk songs with fuller narratives. The former is dark and dirge-like, contrasting the pleasure of new love with the unstated pain of its inevitable end. The latter uses a clever play on words to illustrate the same idea: “time is a precious thing / and time it will go on / and time will bring all things to an end / and so does my thyme grow on”.

Eponymous and final track ‘The Way is Read’ takes a markedly sprightly tempo, juxtaposing vocal interplay and sharp instrumental counterpoint. It rounds off the record with reference to its established lyrical themes: “sailors on a frozen sea . . . under the starry sight / under the wayward night / under the Northern Lights.” The usually warm vocal harmonies of the Staveley-Taylor sisters take an ominous and icy tone here, in the context of yMusic’s sharp, wintry instrumental mix.

Though commissioned for a summer music festival, ‘The Way is Read’ is a perfect soundtrack for the cold winter days of December. Produced by Rob Moose and Jessica Stavely-Taylor, the album is available now on Nonesuch Records. The Staves and yMusic will perform on Minnesota Public Radio’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ on the 16th of December.

8/10

TGTF’s extensive previous coverage of The Staves is right through here, and our previous writing on yMusic can be found here.

 

Video of the Moment #2314: Lucy Rose (feat. The Staves)

 
By on Monday, 6th March 2017 at 6:00 pm
 

Lucy Rose has returned with a new single, and with some special guests to boot. This new song from popular pop singer/songwriter represents her first release with the revered Communion Records. Southern sister trio The Staves, who I incidentally caught as part of a Communion Records showcase at my first SXSW in 2012, lend their gorgeous harmonies to the track. I’ll let Lucy speak about the song and the collaboration:

“When I wrote ‘Floral Dresses’ it really reminded me about who I was, and I always think that some of the best songs are the ones which can stand on their own with just one instrument. The message is pretty clear and I hope other people will find comfort in it, and realise they are different but also the same as many people. Having The Staves on it was a real dream come true.“

Watch the official video for ‘Floral Dresses’ below. The single is out now. To read more of TGTF’s previous coverage on Lucy Rose, go here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsHDThmr_ZQ[/youtube]

 

Gig Observations of 2015: Editor’s Picks and Thoughts on the Live Music Industry

 
By on Tuesday, 22nd December 2015 at 11:00 am
 

Rather than choose my top 5 gigs of 2015 as I have done in previous years, I decided this time around, I needed to take a different tack, and for an important reason. I haven’t gone to that many shows this year. It wasn’t for lack of choice or opportunity, just various mitigating circumstances preventing me from what I wanted to do. Choosing shows, then, would be unfair to every band or act I missed because I couldn’t get their gig, through no fault of their own.

Instead, I’ve decided for 2015 I’d give an overview of how I view gigs now in this ever-changing music industry. In case you have somehow missed this development, please note: a significant portion of an artist’s income is now from touring profits. This makes it all the important to support your favourite bands when they come to your time, buy gig tickets and buy merch too if you can, as generally speaking, more of what they sell at the merch table is going directly into their pockets, and therefore towards their future music-making prospects, than other retailers you might be buying the same stuff from. If that isn’t possible, offer to buy the band drinks. Or bring them food and other tour provisions if the venue will allow it (check first). They’ll appreciate it. I once brought bananas to Peter, Bjorn and John at a 9:30 Club show (now that I think about it, I have no idea how I got them past security) because John asked for them on Twitter.

One of my favourite gigs in 2015 was outside America. While it’s true that you would think I’d automatically have fonder memories of shows away from home while on holiday, it turns out that it’s the people I met at the shows that made the most difference. I would be making a terrible sweeping generalisation if I said all security in America’s clubs are gruff, mean and unreasonable (they’re not), the clubs where I have faced ridiculous behaviour stick out as places I avoid. But when people at a venue go out of their way to be nice to me, I remember.

The Staves at Dublin Olympia, 6 May 2015

Case in point: Robbie, a bouncer at Dublin’s Olympia, really didn’t have to be nice to me when I showed up to cover The Staves there in May. I was press like all the others in the pit. Yet he pointed out where I could leave my things during the show so I would not have to lug them around while taking photos, the dangerous bits of the pit where I might slip and fall, and how I might be able to access the venue wifi. I wasn’t herded like cattle or yelled at, which is an all too regular occurrence. I mean, seriously, which kind of bouncer would you prefer to deal with, when you’re there to do an important job? I had arrived early to scope out the pit and introduce myself so there wouldn’t be any issues, and there were none the entire night. In fact, we got into a very nice conversation about some mutual friends of ours (Kodaline and The Coronas) and he told me a story about the Script‘s early days performing there. Getting to hear such a story, in a location now forever famous thanks to the 2007 R.E.M. live album, was an unforgettable experience during my first visit to Ireland. I will always treasure the memories of that night.

2015 was also the year that Girls Against was founded, in reaction to more outspoken young girls bringing to public attention groping that has been taking place in crowds at shows. Massive props to Drenge, Peace and Slaves in particular for speaking out against and condemning such behaviour at shows. To me, this is the sort of anti-violence action (I’m not going to use “feminist”, I intensely dislike that word because that seems to indicate boys are immune to such vile acts) that is beneficial and is more effective than, say, the words of a popster. Maybe that’s just me.

Ride at 9:30 Club, 17 September 2015

Going back to my own personal live experiences year, another great night was somehow achieved with flying colours by, well, flying down the street. Ride, who had not played in North America for a very long time, had a great show at the 9:30 Club in September. Having heard that their ’90s contemporaries Jesus and the Mary Chain were complete bores, I was steeling myself for a similar experience. Not so. The show was a reminder to me – and all – that despite the inevitable ageing of rock stars, the music is still incredible, and most bands even when they past middle age are still excellent, excellent shouts. Perhaps they might not need as much of your money as the younger, fledgling bands, but they are certainly worth the money to go see and have a night out where you can support your local economy and nightlife.

My friend and I had to split before Ride’s encore, however, to go down the block and see my Welsh friends Until the Ribbon Breaks play at DC9. I’ve had a soft spot for Pete Lawrie and co. after seeing them win over crowds at SXSW 2014 and then smash it while closing the Music Wales night this year in Austin. To go from a 1,200-capacity, state of the art, two-floor club with massive balcony to a 200-capacity upstairs room really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Both shows were packed but both were also full of incredible energy. It reminded me it doesn’t really matter how big (or small) a crowd is, as long as the artist up on stage is giving it his/her/their all. That’s their art, and it’s our responsibility as fans to make sure they can keep doing what they’re doing.

Until the Ribbon Breaks at DC9, 17 September 2015

I would be remiss if I did not mention all the lovely people, bands, and artists I met in East Anglia for Norwich Sound and Vision. (All my coverage of the 3-day festival and accompanying conference can be found here.) It was my first time in that region of England and I was absolutely charmed by the city and by the kindness extended by everyone there. I highly recommend the experience to anyone wanting something to put on their calendar that’s much more relaxed where you actually feel human and you’re not running town to gigs and meetings like a crazy person! (Professionals: we all know what that’s like, right?) A special thank you to Adrian, Jenny and Dex for putting on such a remarkable event, and a very special thank you to Mark for tipping me off about it.

A final word. After the horrific events in Paris on the 13th of November (I wrote about this a bit back here), we have to keep going. I know it’s hard. I’m still shaken up by what’s happened, because some of the music fans we lost were friends and colleagues of friends. In 2016, more so than any other year in the past, I hope for more peace, love and understanding. Let’s commit ourselves to this. Through music we can stand together. And stay strong.

Peace out.

After the cut: the full list of all the gigs, in reverse chronological order, that I’ve been to in 2015.
Continue reading Gig Observations of 2015: Editor’s Picks and Thoughts on the Live Music Industry

 

Video of the Moment #1969: The Staves

 
By on Friday, 4th December 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

Harmonising singer/songwriter sisters The Staves have a new video out this week from their sophomore album ‘If I Was’, which was released on Atlantic Records back in March. The LP was recorded out in Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) April Base studio in the wilds of Wisconsin, and the new promo for ‘Make It Holy’ features clips from their time there during the making of it, some lyric sheets and some pensive moments from the sisters while holed up in a building in the middle of the snowy northern American wilderness.

As you will see below, the timing of this video’s release is perfect with the holiday season, as it becomes apparent from the yuletide decorations that the sisters were with Vernon and his team last Christmas, so it makes for a festive watch. Past coverage of The Staves on TGTF is this way.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GT4IC9fgxiw[/youtube]

 

Video of the Moment #1926: The Staves

 
By on Monday, 28th September 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

Sister folk rock group The Staves have had a busy year that has included the release of ‘If I Was’, their second full-length studio album, back in March. Their next single from the album, ‘Steady’, will be released on Atlantic Records on the 9th of October, and the single now has its own promo video. Filmed on 16 mm film in an apartment tucked far away in the woods, the sisters – Emily, Jess and Camilla – witness their own untimely ends in this promo. Yes, creepy. Thank goodness the music is beautiful, though. Watch it below.

All of TGTF’s past coverage of The Staves, including my review of their headline show at Dublin Olympia back in May, is here.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im__swvPfzM[/youtube]

 

Video of the Moment #1824 (and more!): The Staves

 
By on Friday, 12th June 2015 at 6:00 pm
 

A definite highlight of my trip to Dublin last month was seeing the Staveley-Taylor sisters, better known by their stage name The Staves, live at the famed Olympia. (You can read my account of the night here.) One of the most heart-meltingly, achingly beautiful moments of the show for me was their performance of ‘Teeth White’, which up to that point I’d never heard, as I hadn’t had time to properly listen to their new album ‘If I Was’. The story of the song? Being a woman and doing all the right things, having pearly white teeth and wearing tight jeans, or so you think, and still ending up lonely. Strikes a chord to the lovelorn, doesn’t it?

According to Stereogum, this video was filmed by the La Blogotheque crew. So it’s not a too far stretch of the imagination that they probably did this one with the Paris Web site around the same time of their recording live versions of ‘Black and White’ and ‘Teeth White’, which appeared online in March. In case you missed that earlier video, I’ve also embedded it below for your watching and listening enjoyment.

TGTF’s past coverage of the Staves can be found this way.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln8A9sBj2_0[/youtube]

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hQEXSsoUys[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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