The Staves improved in almost every way for their second album last year, If I Was. It might have helped that they had the starpower of Bon Iver as producer (but then again, who isn’t working with Bon Iver these days?). They were reborn from softly spoken folky types that missed the last folk revival into a more powerful folk-rock trio that could write big songs like ‘Make It Holy’ and ‘Blood I Bled’. Sleeping In A Car is a stopgap EP between If I Was and wherever they go next. They’re carrying the flame for traditional folk, where other artists like Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling have introduced more poppy sounds into their style. It would be interesting to see the Staves pick up an electric guitar and write an anthemic folk-rock song, but at the minute they’re still relying on acoustic guitars, all three sisters singing in harmony and even some light electronic touches. That might sound grating, as introducing some big blaring synth into warm folk could make Mumford and Sons last album seem like a good idea. But they don’t do that; instead there’s the end of ‘Sleeping In A Car’ with its pitch-shifting of vocals and the low hum during ‘Roses’.
Sleeping In A Car consists of a short three songs clocking in at ten minutes, which just about makes it an EP, but consider it as an extended single and Sleeping In A Car becomes less of an artistic statement of an album and more of an interesting stepping stone single. If that’s the case, then maybe ‘Outlaw’ should be the B-side and ‘Roses’ should be the A-Side. That’s not to say ‘Outlaw’ is bad; it has a classic Staves sound, some juttering electric guitar (?) shimmering in and the bandmembers working around each other with their voices in ways that doesn’t surprise that they’re sisters. They’ve got that part nailed down. The footstomping and driving drumbeat, plus the chorus of ‘I’m an outlaw on my own’ does turn the song into a bit of a cowboy cliche, but its in the verses when Camilla Staveley-Turner, as default leader, sings ‘Up against the bedroom door I know my place’ and ‘Think about you time to time / But it don’t mean much’. There’s some interesting layers that peel away from ‘Outlaw’ though, from the rattling drums, the moments when the drums fall away and the vocal snippets that appear at the corners before culminating in the final chorus.
‘Roses’ might start familiarly with what sounds like a ukelele playing and Camilla’s lone voice singing ‘I don’t wanna know / God I miss the snow’ before an acoustic guitar is introduced. The song breaks into a sprint in the second half with the introduction of drums and a sharply plucked harp. ‘Sleeping In A Car’ is the most electronic-oriented song on the album, with the kind of minimal synths you’d find on a James Blake album providing a foundation for the Staves to incorporate drums and piano into. It’s a fitting end to this tight EP. Three songs might seem short, but it’s the perfect amount and will tide over any fan until their next release. Sleeping In A Car isn’t just something to pass the time though, it’s a refreshing reminder that folk isn’t afraid to make use of modern production techniques and instrumentation to extend the lifespan of what was once thought to be a dead genre. And they didn’t even need Bon Iver for it.
Funnel Recommends: Roses