As debut album's go, 'The Big Black And The Blue' was pretty formidable. Released back in 2010, when Klara and Johanna were still but teenagers, it properly heralded the arrival of a sibling song writing and performing partnership that was fresh, inventive, immediately captivating and remarkably focused. The sensitive, anecdotal tracks drew upon themes and topics that showed a maturity beyond their years. The songs seemed to capture a duo perfectly in-tune with each other and completely comfortable in themselves. Whilst they may have been aware that what they had was a very special talent there was still a soupcon of naivety to the combination that made the record just that bit more appealing.
That was two years ago. 2012 sees the release of the Swede's sophomore album, 'The Lions Roar'. A lot can, and has, happened in two years. Johanna and Klara have travelled the world showcasing Sweden's best musical export since Abba and have met up with many a 'Rock God' wanting to pass on their "infinite wisdom" (Jack White among them) to the two charming young ladies. Thankfully, for the most part, First Aid Kit are still perfectly capable of choosing their own musical direction. They may be a little older, a little wiser, better travelled and a little more world weary but ostensibly what made them such a fabulous proposition two years ago is what makes them even more of a must listen now. It is not for nothing that they went straight to number one in their native land upon release of their latest album.
'The Lions Roar' is a ten song set of such composure and cohesion that clearly reflects how centred First Aid Kit have become. There is now even more of a knowing expressed and conveyed within the songs. I'm not into tales of re-incarnation but if someone told me that they were the equivalent of an earthly portal put among us to communicate some bygone wisdom through music I might actually believe you for a moment. It's not heavy, it's just so well done, so well balanced and considered, never half hearted and always compelling.
The title track to the album makes for a stunning start. Klara is in fine voice throughout and here is no exception. The ache and longing in her vocal are framed so effectively that her agonies are almost tangible......"She plays a tune for those who wish to overlook, the fact that they've been blindly deceived, by those who preach and pray and teach." Up next is the tender and sweet (Not sickly) Country infused love-lorn tune, 'Emmylou'. The steel slide guitar back drops a fabulous song of yearning, disappointment and compromise that skips along to a happier beat than the underlying sadness of the tale. Listening to this track is like hearing the musical biography of someone's failed love-life but from the perspective of one who's many generations older than the Sodenberg sisters. The characterisation in the song is so poetic and romantic at the same time, it's like a Jane Austen period drama.
'In The Hearts Of Men', and then 'Blue', continue to show how First Aid Kit have developed their sound as well as their writing. Whilst reflecting on, and in some cases ruing, the parts they play in life they also demonstrate a clear realisation that they are not restricted or constrained by any need to conform with their music, they can just be themselves.....and they don't need to "Do it all with a goddamn smile." 'The Old Routine' is return to more familiar FAK territory. A great arrangement to a brilliantly told story, beautifully vocalised with layered harmonies. It's a winning formula that heads up another pair of album highlights. 'To A Poet' cuts through with a sharp, almost harp like, piano set against deep strings and high vocal. The undulating nature of the track has instruments arriving and departing leaving the eventual percussive beat to drive the violin and cello to the finale.
The rhythmic brush of the snare ups the bpm slightly on 'I Found A Way' and there are waves of optimism on 'Dance To Another Tune' but generally 'The Lions Roar' has more of a sombre feel than its predecessor. Even the penultimate track, 'New Years Eve', the simplest most stripped back of all the songs here, has a wanting for change that is channelled through a soul that has a half empty disposition. It is not until the horns and hand-claps of the Conor Oberst collaboration, 'King Of The World', that we witness gay abandon. The accordion and trumpet help to get the party started as the album concludes in surprising but never-the-less marvellous fashion.
With 'The Lions Roar' First Aid Kit have produced another fine album. They have managed to hold onto everything that was so good about their debut album but without any need for replication. Whilst retaining a certain degree of innocence and naivety they have built upon their experience, and added to their charm, to give us a truly superb slice of Swedish flavoured folk.