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First Aid Kit - Sisters are doing it for themselves
on 23 January 2012
Once upon a time two sisters walked into a Swedish forest, one with a guitar the other looking painfully young at the age of 16 and they both sang a song. The tune in question was a spine tingling cover of Fleet Foxes "Tiger mountain peasant song" and the sisters posted a video of it on the internet. It turned into a quiet and persistent sensation having been viewed well over 2 million times. The sisters in question were Johanna Söderberg and Klara Söderberg and their band is First Aid Kit. Happily suspending the fact that they are from Sweden they produce the type of Americana which is heartfelt and passionate, Their debut album 2010s "Big Black & The Blue" was a showcase for their brilliant voices although it was if truth be told a tad downbeat, lacking in variety in some parts and the echoes of Robin Pecknold's Seattle wonders were everywhere.
On their latest album "The Lions Roar" there is a clear and determined attempt made to rock things up and give a bigger sound. The bittersweet harmonies remain firmly in place but better songs with fuller production are everywhere plus growing signs that the sisters can write a fine set of lyrics. They recently reduced Patti Smith to a tearful wreck with a stirring version of her "Dancing Barefoot", yet it is to that other female giant of music that this albums finest song is dedicated. "Emmylou" name checks the romance of Harris with her true love Gram Parsons, plus June Carter with the Man in Black. It could easily be clichéd and trite but instead it is a splendid country concoction and possibly the finest thing the sisters have done. There must be composers in Nashville thinking that a monster has been created in Stockholm that can out countrify them in every respect. The opening title track equally sees the sisters drawing from Dylan and Cash with considerable aplomb, harmonies to die for and a melody drawn from the ages in a powerful alt country ballad. Indeed the opening three songs which conclude with the "In the hearts of men" a song Neko Case would have mortgaged her house to write sees First Aid Kit barely putting a foot wrong. Further musical peaks arrive in the form of the beautiful ringing gentle ballad "Blue" (not a Joni Mitchell cover) and the wonders of the rolling "To a poet" which certainly has a Fleet Foxes tinge and is frankly all the better for it. A step change comes when the sisters truly cut loose on the last track with a rollicking hoedown entitled "King of the world". This reviewer was idly speculating that the Felice brothers who have sadly lost their mojo of late should produce a song of this quality when by happy accident some of them turn up with Conor Oberst to sing backing vocals. This serendipity is actually rather obvious when you hear this joyous song jam packed with handclaps, violins, accordions and horns (one can only hope that Ian Felice has exercised his demons since the troubling "Celebration Florida"). Finally a doff of the cap to the gorgeous strummed lament "New Years Eve" which is solid proof that First Aid Kit are maturing into an act as classy as a pair of Jimmy Choo's. Please seek this song out you will adore it.
"The Lion's Roar" is the sound of a band rapidly maturing at light speed with a talent well beyond their years. Listen to their first EP "Drunken Trees" and chart the scale of the journey to this new LP and the size of the musical leap. It's all quite remarkable and in the context of the evolving story of the Söderberg's we should warmly welcome the fact that "sisters are doing it for themselves".