First Aid Kit’s “Stay Gold” a First-Class Treat

28 Aug

Cute. Swedish. Sisters.

That’s more than enough for half the listening audience to take notice of a duo calling themselves First Aid Kit.

So much of the music scene today — thank you, music videos — seems to be driven largely by the sex appeal of artists. Who cares if they can sing or play? So, how welcome is it to find First Aid Kit — sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, who are Swedish natives — creating astonishingly mature folk and Americana at such a young age.

Johnanna is 23 and lead vocalist, Klara, is just 21. But their voices — separate or together — are marvelous. Their latest album, Stay Gold, is already their third release. And it is excellent — a must-have if you like folk or Americana with slight country leanings.

First Aid Kit turned heads and captured the attention of critics with “Emmylou” from 2012’s The Lion’s Roar.” A tribute to Emmylou Harris and other revered country acts, the song came in at #10 on Rolling Stone’s Top 50 songs of 2012.

The meteoric rise of this duo who perform Americana better than most American acts was noticed by mainstream music labels, leading to Stay Gold being released by Columbia, following the sisters’ first two albums on well-known indie labels.

But First Aid Kit hasn’t forgotten its indie heritage. The latest album was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska in the same studio where Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) records, with the backing of a 13-piece Omaha orchestra and production by Mike Mogis, who has worked with Oberst.

In Stay Gold, the lyrics focus on topics such as figuring life out, moving out on one’s own, dealing with heartbreak, and building a life away from home — universal life challenges which have been magnified by the two sisters having to spend so much time away from Sweden, recording and touring.

Among the album’s highlights are “My Silver Lining,” an up-tempo country-folk tune, with crying violins, fiddle, fingerpicked guitar, and a simple rhythm that incorporates brushes on drums. The vocals feature the rich harmonies the sisters make with their perfectly blended voices. “Cedar Lane” is a lilting waltz with an even more country flavor, thanks to the prominent pedal steel guitar.

“Shattered and Hollow” is a beautiful, sweet and fragile ballad. The sisters sing, “I’d rather be moving than static/I’d rather be by your side.” “Waitress Song” is an uplifting tune with amazing soaring harmonies about breaking free — leaving heartbreak behind and rediscovering yourself on your own. “Girls just want to have fun/And the rest of us hardly know who we are,” they sing.

The album closes with “A Long Time Ago,” a somewhat sad indie folk ballad. The spare vocals are sung over a simple piano melody, with harmonies in the choruses.

If this is the first time you’re hearing about First Aid Kit, it’s a band you definitely need to know. These young ladies are certainly here to stay.

Stay Gold is one of those albums that’s perfect for a wistful Sunday morning, or any time you’re in the mood for beautiful, mellow reflective songs.

 

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