Review : First Aid Kit - The Lion’s Roar
PopmattersSomething interesting can happen when musicians from a European nation get together and pay homage to the country sounds of America. I’m thinking particularly of Bettie Serveert, a Dutch indie rock band that released a 1992 album called Palomine which seemingly paid tribute to the country-rock sounds of Gram Parsons, but added an additional layer of grungy fuzz and feedback to the proceedings, making it seem as though the band was channeling Dinosaur Jr. through Parsons’ particular blend of honky-tonk blues. You can now add First Aid Kit to the pile, as they are a young band of Swedish siblings – Johanna and Klara Söderberg – who have released a remarkable second album in The Lion’s Roar, a follow-up to 2010’s critically acclaimed debut The Big Black and the Blue. Even though Johanna and Klara are especially doe-eyed – they were born in 1990 and 1993 respectively, so, you can do the math – they are mining a hard-worn, ramshackle blend of country music with a little bit of folk injected for that added kick and heft. In fact, the siblings remarkably sound at times like a feminine version of the particularly leathern worn vocal stylings of Johnny Cash, a musician that they pay respect to on their new song “Emmylou” (which also name-checks Emmylou Harris, naturally, as well as Parsons and June Carter).
What’s particularly appealing about First Aid Kit, though, is that even though the band – a family affair, as father Benkt plays bass – is paying tribute and homage to music made years before they were born and thousands of miles away from home, they don’t forget their Swedish roots. On The Lion’s Roar, which was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska, the duo write about Stockholm and long winter nights in their tales of heartbreak, making them more than just a group of young women hovering around the 20-something mark merely being revivalists. They take the DNA of what makes Americana, well, American, but they add their own distinctive voice – and not only in the lyrics. Songs such as the title-track are written as a waltz, while “King of the World” uses the same style of mariachi horns that Cash utilized to great effect on “Ring of Fire”, something you don’t hear that often these days. “In the Hearts of Men” is one of a few tracks that utilizes a lush Mellotron, while “Blue” adds a layer of playfulness by inserting a xylophone, and the sparse “New Year’s Eve” is sung against a lone zither-like device providing the only instrumentation – making it nestle close to the work of Joanna Newsom....full text
GuardianThe second album from the Swedish Soderberg sisters is full to the brim with charm. Recorded in Omaha with Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis, and featuring a cameo from Conor Oberst, it's a bigger, better record than their debut, rounded out with the confidence of maturity and a smooth, assured indie-country sound. But there's an undertow to its sun-kissed demeanour; listen closely and the lyrics are shot through with darkness and gloom. "Now the pale morning sings of forgotten things…" begins the title track and opener, setting a mournful, nostalgic tone from the off. Even the mostly playful Emmylou, a sweet ode to the grand, destructive love affairs of the country legend, starts on a bleak note of surrender: "Oh the bitter winds are coming in, and I'm already missing the summer." But if the words sound battered by life, the music is filled with it, and The Lion's Roar works because, like their country inspirations, there's a steely toughness to the despair, and their extraordinary harmonies make even the glummest sentiments soar....full text
BbcThose already familiar with First Aid Kit may be shocked by the portent in the title of their second album, The Lion's Roar. For a duo so built on understatement, it's a statement of its own volition – words which suggest something bigger, bolder, and stronger.
From the reflections of Blue, the influence of the Swedish sisters' dream producer Mike Mogis (best known for his work with Bright Eyes) becomes apparent. Still pared down but clearer, the sweet mimicking between bass and xylophone feel more ominous than decorative.
Johanna and Klara Sodenberg's close harmonies charm unaffectedly, pitched in the mix like the faint voices of songbirds echoing through a woodland scene. And, lyrically, there's a mix of gloom and lilt in the perfect order and proportion; in spite of Conor Oberst's involvement, there's no stagnation, no lack of positivity and certainly no halting moments of impenetrable self-reflection.
The voices gallingly cry "I go from nowhere to nowhere / Searching for the key" on Dance to Another Tune, the most mournful of The Lion's Roar's 10 songs. Written like a series of proverbs, it has the unique gift of being accessible and extravagant. First Aid Kit are now a band rather than a duo, and the gorgeous harmonies benefit from a more serious direction and sometimes sweeping orchestration.
First Aid Kit's journey into the hillbilly backwoods is smoother than their rickety debut album, 2010’s The Big Black & Blue, and comes with the benefit of greater knowledge. This set swells into a full assembly of Americana, peaking at name-dropper Emmylou – the delightful warmth of this song can be attributed to the sisters' affections for the genre, even down to the accents. The lyrics "I'll be your Emmylou and I'll be your June / And you'll be my Gram and your Johnny too," while simple, act as a gently vigorous call-to-arms.
The echo of pedal steel and mariachi horns on King of the World is a far cry from First Aid Kit's cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, which first appeared on YouTube in 2008. The full band which appears on The Lion's Roar enjoys the rare achievement of being saccharine-free, and serves to highlight the sisters' brilliant captured-on-tape chemistry.
As consolation anthems go, it's difficult to imagine anyone topping this collection in 2012. Sat neatly between Laura Marling's trauma, Alessi's Ark's florid scenes and Joni Mitchell's spot-lit thoughts, First Aid Kit's second album lines them up as the band most likely to cross over into the big time....full text
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