The Staves and yMusic recent collaboration live has now manifested into one of most surprising and dynamic recordings of the year. Using the beautiful vocal synergy of the Staves there’s already huge harmonic power, and the overpowering emotive power that yMusic’s orchestration provides culminates in a powerhouse of musical talent. Often a completely entrancing experience, the writing can often feel like it takes far too long to move on, but the tones are so captivating that it’s easy to get over.
With uplifting harmonies, the dark lyricism of “Hopeless” is sharply contrasted by the group’s heavenly vocals. The light bits of spoken-word however, and the light tail-off that happens throughout the piece are the real standouts however as they flesh out its colour in dynamic ways. A flurry of strings and woodwinds open “Take Me Home” with a wondrous sprint, building in brass and heavier tones as the vocals come in. Feeling like a pseudo synth pop song in its arrangement, the track carries a startling mix of orchestral and more modern elements for a shocking listen.
Blending in their harmonies with the bursts of instrumentation, there’s utter heartbreak in the beautiful swells of “Trouble On My Mind.” Blending pop and classical in the most ambitious ways possible, their ability to weave in uglier tones for the sake of the song’s emotion is all too powerful. The dark echoes of “Bladed Stance” call to a darker emotion as the ambient sounds slowly fade out. Haunting to say the least, it sets the tone for the songs to come.
“All My Life” takes on a menace in its swirling melodies, as each instrument races back and forth creating a weird sort of argument without words. As the song mellows out and slows down, the vocal chants feel all too satisfying as they build chords with the band. Taking a more overtly pop approach to the writing, “Silent Side” lets the instrumentation enhance a strong vocal track. While it does feel a little repetitive, it’s hard to be bothered when the sounds are so lush.
A wiry tension calls out in “Year of the Dog” as the strings desperately search for something to tie them together. The horns and harmonic rises from the band however create a triumphant energy that elevates the song to something inspiring. “Courting Is A Pleasure” sounds eerie and far from its more romantic subject matter, suggesting its darker subtext before the lyrics catch up to it. The dreariness is palpable in its strings but it also makes the song a very long and testing listen given how heavily it comes across.
The folk-driven flicker of “All the Times You Prayed” offer a much more simple and rustic drive that the record rarely gets, making for a track that lets its narrative take the forefront. Thanks to this change in style, the collaborations seamless ability to mix and alternate between each other’s styles give the track a dynamic energy. “Appetite” does she its one slight fallback however, as there does at times feel like handfuls of melodic repetitions on the record that can leave many songs sounding like more of the same.
Fluttering clarinet really illuminates the mood on “Sprig of Thyme” as the track hovers until the Staves chord building steals the show. More of a meditation than a progressing song, there’s a magic to the energy they’re all able to build together. Closer “The Way is Read” has one of the stronger pop pushes on the record while carrying a strong cinematic luster to its tone and emotive chords. Letting each vocal hold its own place in the mix, the track closes the record on one of its most exciting and abrasive moments.
Words by Owen Maxwell