Although The House Mafia and Icona Pop may take exception, First Aid Kit must surely rank as Sweden's finest musical export of recent years. The sisters from the suburbs of Stockholm have delighted us with sublime sibling harmonies since the release of their debut album 'The Big Black And The Blue' in 2010.
Klara and Johanna, still only 21 and 23 respectively, are seemingly blessed with an abundance of talent, maturity and craftsmanship way beyond their meagre years. Their music is full of such a depth of expression and emotive dexterity that you can't help but be swept up in each of the beautifully balanced songs. Tales of love and loss, sadness, regret and reminiscence are all delicately set in some flawless arrangements that really highlight and enhance the quality of the compositions.
First Aid Kit really started to see a marked change in their fortunes with the release of their second album 'The Lions Roar'. Their blend of close vocal harmony folk was mixed with a country lilt and given a more polished finish with the undoubted help of producer Mike Mogis. With festival appearances and radio airplay helping to put the band in the limelight and onto the fringes of the mainstream, First Aid Kit established themselves as a formidable songwriting duo.
With the release of 'Stay Gold', the band's second album with Mogis, First Aid Kit should take the next stepping stone to becoming well known as a name in their own right, beyond the confines of muso mainstays, blogs and mere critical respect and reverence. From the opening bars of the first song, and first single lifted from the album, 'My Silver Lining' to the touching tormented finale of 'A Long Time Ago', 'Stay Gold' delivers an exquisite 10 track triumph.
The title track, a tale of summer love, questions and muses over the what ifs of a relationship born out of passion but bound not to last. There is almost a tangible despair strung out through the lyrics as the "gold turns to grey": "What if our hard work ends in despair... What if to love and be loved's not enough... What if I fall and can't bare to get up?" (this is more than just Danny and Sandy's 'Summer Lovin''). As the layered harmonies soar all around, the accompanying subtle string arrangement and excellent percussive treatment drive the song home to devastating effect.
Similarly tragic is the sombre honesty of the 'better to have loved and lost than never loved before' tale of the determined but tainted 'Shattered And Hollow'. "I'd rather be broken than empty" is the main message in the lyric. Klara and Johanna's vocals are unsurpassable here. Their voices are so acutely paired and the song so full of emotional expression that you can't help but be moved. 'A Long Time Ago' is just as emotive with its stripped back piano score. The ballad of unrequited love is delivered with such heartfelt conviction it could surely only be borne out of experience.
Other highlights among the many are the second single, 'Cedar Lane'. The overtly country steel stringed song is a gentle meandering tune that recalls and rejoices in a relationship from the past. 'Waitress Song' is another piece of great story telling. The central character is immediately imagined, the name's right, the journey she takes instantly believable and the references from Cindy Lauper through to Chicago spot on - await the film.
With 'Stay Gold', First Aid Kit have consolidated the work they had begun on 'The Lion's Roar'. The whole album is completely cohesive, wonderfully sequenced and both frustrating and brilliant in its compact, tightly bound and unindulgent set. It leaves you satisfied in its entirety but you are aching for more when it's over.
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