Magnificent. This is the only word I can think of to describe “Blood I Bled” by The Staves. And there are so many magnificent things that happen in the song that it’s difficult to pick a place to start. Let’s begin with the thing that everyone talks about when they talk about The Staves—those voices.
The heart of the band is made up of three sisters Emily, Jessica, and Camilla. I’ve seen them perform live a couple times, and their stage banter is comfortable and hilarious because they poke fun of each other and themselves. Then, every so often, they throw a lewd joke in. Even after seeing them live and putting faces to voices, I still have a hard time picking out which sister is singing what while I’m listening at home. They blend together so perfectly in pitch, volume, and tone.
“Blood I Bled” comes in quietly with a trickling, gurgling ukulele line. The first lyrics, “Come the quickening feet that fall,” reinforces an idea of swift but subdued movement. We soon come to the first chorus. “If I was, if I am, if I did, if I had.” It’s so simple, but already we hear something building beneath it, and the last note goes somewhere unexpected, much higher, and sustained longer than any of the words sung thus far.
An electric guitar riff joins the ukulele along with some gentle percussion, and as the second verse continues the same as the first, we hear the other two sisters come in and harmonize, giving a different meaning to the first time we heard the lyrics. “Come the quickening feet that fall (hard behind you.)” There’s a hint of danger. Things are getting more complex. The song is definitely building.
When the main singer of this song, Camilla, reaches the last note of the second chorus, the whole song explodes. All three sisters hit a complicated three-part harmony, and the music swells, including horns, full percussion, and bass.
After the song hits this big moment, it shifts. It becomes a call to arms. It’s no longer delicate and sweet and gentle. The Staves are making a statement with this first single. We are not small. We are not quiet. We are here, and we have something important to do.
As we move into the third chorus, the lyrics change. “You cut my roots and now my leaves are dead. They tumble down in pools of all the blood I bled.” This marks a second shift where the sisters’ voices become the most powerful, building and building, layering harmony over harmony, and so thick that they start to overwhelm the song. Finally a high, operatic voice comes in and brings these harmonies to a close. They sing both choruses one last time, and then the song flows toward the end on a stream of beautiful, woven voices and string arrangements—magnificent!
If you like “Blood I Bled,” listen to “Eagle Song” and “Black and White” by The Staves.