The Staves are a sister trio from the UK—Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor—and their new album If I Was, newly out on Nonesuch Records, is one of the prettiest things I've heard all year. Like the new, phenomenally focused Sufjan Stevens record, the Justin Vernon-produced If I Was is an exercise in the particular, plain confidence of aesthetically forthright folk—an adherence to form and an expansion within it. In the above live video for their track "Make It Holy," you can see the center of what distinguishes the Staves as a project: the almost mystical coherence of the sisters' voices in clean, warm, gossamer harmony; the hint of wild, calm woundedness in the songwriting. It's unadorned and still overwhelming.
I've been waiting for this album ever since the Justin Vernon edit of "Open" came out last fall, which ended up being one of my favorite tracks of last year. With his influence more clearly defined in this remix, it becomes clear why he's an ideal producer for the Staves: their music builds in layers upon structural layers of otherworldly beauty, leaving Vernon free to tilt and warp the foundation with the active, grinding, gorgeous desperation he floated in Bon Iver but mostly brings to side projects: the Dark Was the Night collection, James Blake, Kanye. There are certain intervals, fucked-up sevenths and ninths, that don't show up often in pop music—and the run of them in this track, particularly right around :30, makes me shiver.
(There's also a great new video of Vernon performing the song at top with the Staves, which you can watch at Stereogum here; you wonder how many times they did this in studio.)
A hundred layers of lightness as a means of achieving something quite dark, If I Was feels devotional in an almost pagan way: it's an album textured by the outdoors, as if the wind had whipped the world into a church. It's up for purchase here, streaming on Spotify, sampled on Soundcloud below—and truly, if you enjoy folk harmonies and breaking your own heart through your headphones, you'll love it.