First Aid Kit ‘Stay Gold’ Album Review

Swedish Americana? – the major label debut from First Aid Kit defied all reasonable expectations.

We’re crazy about the Everly Brothers, we’re enamoured with the Secret Sisters, and now we’re headed for a full-fledged affair with the musical talents of Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg. The sweet sounds of filial intertwining (vocally, that is) are the the first of our predilections  for this appreciation of Stay Gold, the major label (Columbia) debut for First Aid Kit. We also tend to favour lyrics of depth wedded to authenticity of delivery, particularly in the folk genre where sincerity can quickly fade to a sense of trying too hard.

As for Americana itself, the range of current talent is surpassingly good. But Swedish Americana? – it’s a potent force despite being confined to these two young sisters. Not only does their work have a future, but it may well challenge the popularity of Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and any other you care to name.

Back in 2012 we reviewed The Lion’s Roar, and called it one of the most beautiful records made in recent years. It was a haunting, serious album that was a minor chamber-folk masterpiece. It sold modestly well.

This new album is bigger, more diverse, more cheerful yet without a trace of pandering to the lowest common denominator of the hook-laden jingles so obviously planning to be sold off to commercial ventures at the soonest opportunity. Their voices, as before, are one voice. The arrangements are very untypical of Americana: lyric lines end suddenly, take detours, turns and twists that are simply unknown in folk or Americana, and that, combined with some adventurous songwriting, is what distinguishes First Aid Kit from everyone else in their field. Their songs, simply put, are unpredictable inventions that don’t follow a traditional pattern.

“One has to learn appreciate what is and that all flows, that nothing stays”.- Klara and Johanna, 2014.

Producer Mike Mogis (who also produced their previous album) brings a powerful, cohesive sound to these songs, adding to the sisters’ guitar and autoharp a much stronger rhythm section as well as the occasional input from a 13-piece orchestra ensemble. Still, the material doesn’t sound overblown. Some of it, particularly “Master Pretender”, and the title track “Stay Gold” is even majestic.

The killer tracks, though, are the leadoff “My Silver Lining”, with vocal swoops and lyrical swirls that you won’t soon forget, and the bookending closer, “A Long Time Ago”, a haunting little piano-based tale of broken love. Kudos to First Aid Kit for having the courage to end such a shining album on a beautiful downbeat.