First Aid Kit’s “Stay Gold” Delivers a Soaring Performance
Like the moan of the steel guitar or the cut of the banjo tone, there is just something about the precision and flow of sister harmonies that awaken something in the human spirit that is uncanny, and characteristic of the highest reaches of audio diversion. Considering the long and noble lineage of close sister harmonies, marked on its path by such noteworthy names as The Carter Family, The Kossoy Sisters, and up to today with The Quebe’s and The Secret Sisters, the Swedish sister pairing of Johanna and Klara Söderberg, traveling under the band name First Aid Kit, must certainly be considered right at the very top of esteemed acolytes of this storied discipline.
The occasion of their 3rd studio release called Stay Gold sees the duo rewarded the distinction of having a major label in Columbia Records behind their pursuits; something that is strange for a act with such weight, but not unexpected when you consider that in their home country of Sweden, they are the equivalent of pop stars. However First Aid Kit wields the English language with surprising expertise and purpose, and does so in a folk and roots style that is hauntingly classic and indicative of a time only ghosts can remember. The Söderberg sisters aren’t foreign, they are other worldly, and reach into the hearts of anyone who finds the beauty in folk and primitive country, no matter what borders define their homeland.
Stay Gold captures First Aid Kit fearlessly unburdening their fears, confiding in the listener very personal matters of self-doubt and worry that are exacerbated by a world of constant change, endless travel, and the inherent travails of navigating life as a young woman amongst prying eyes and directionless paths. The honesty in the songwriting, and the sentiment that bleeds over demarcation lines of gender or situation to find sympathetic ears with most who have the patience and disposition to listen make Stay Gold a songwriting feat before any discussion is broached about the music itself.
And when talking about the music, Johanna and Klara Söderberg put on a melody-crafting clinic, endowing Stay Gold with one rich, fulfilling composition after another full of soaring, frothy vocal exhibitions that run circles around the modern age’s garden variety mainstream singers. One of the reasons First Aid Kit can concoct such astounding melodies and match them so well with story is because their range and adeptness allows them a vocal pasture much wider that most have access to.
Story and melody is then complimented by orchestration that no matter what is happening, is so splendidly and tastefully set in the background, your attention is never stirred from where it should be centered: these two spellbinding sisters. Where their last album The Lion’s Roar looked to compliment their desire to travel as a 3-piece, First Aid Kit and producer Mike Mogis pull out all the stops for Stay Gold, with a full compliment of instrumentation including steel guitar and strings, and even a 13-piece orchestra that lays behind a virtual fog bank, floating in and out of the background, aiding these songs’ natural yearning to take to wing and deliver to the listener the higher reaches of what a musical experience can offer.
And despite all of the ethereal shades of Stay Gold, it has some splendidly grounded and playful moments that keep it from taking itself too seriously; maybe even a little bit too grounded when the sisters unexpectedly sing about about how “shit gets fucked up” in the song “Master Pretender”, or yell in a shrill moment “STRAIGHT TO HELL!” on “Heaven Knows.” The “Waitress Song” throws you a fun little curve ball too, and despite its trope-like beginning, it slowly reveals the depth indicative of all First Aid Kit material.
Concerns about Stay Gold would be that at times, whether the fault of writing or cadence, this sister duo will try to try to include too many words in a small space. It caught your ear at a spot on the title track of their last album, and it does here in the first song “My Silver Lining” with “I don’t know if I’m scared of dying, but I’m scared of living too fast, too slow.” The beat and background music of a couple of the songs, including “Master Pretender” seem to unsheathe the moody pall normally cast over their music, to an almost Paul Simon-like tribal joy that while not poor by any measure, seems a slight shade inappropriate. Also the song “Heaven Knows”, though probably being the most country-style song on the album, seemed slightly too judgmental in the lyricism.
This is a folk project first, but listeners who will be able to map the parallels between The Carter Family, The Louvin Brothers, and other important country bands will find great joy in this album.
With Stay Gold, First Aid Kit doesn’t just squeeze some Neosporin and slap a band-aid on the wound of bad music, they offer a holistic tincture that heals prolonged ailments and others you never knew you had. Consider it right beside the other high water marks so far in 2014.
Two guns up!
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June 11, 2014 @ 6:52 pm
Yes!! I am so pleased with there music. I don’t care if radio don’t play ’em I sure as heck will. And for some reason all this reminds me of the duo Sweethearts of the Rodeo. I can’t explain why but it does.
June 11, 2014 @ 7:54 pm
This album is just absolutely amazing. I’ve listened to it probably a dozen times and it really does just keep getting better.
Love this album.
June 12, 2014 @ 5:21 am
Trigger I’ve spent a lot of money on music since I discovered this site. I blame you for that. You write good reviews on great music I would have never found on my own.
June 12, 2014 @ 9:22 am
Subscribe to Spotify or Google Play Music All Access or another music streaming service. Then just listen to everything. This site has definitely made my All Access subscription well worth it the money.
June 12, 2014 @ 10:01 am
Streaming music is not a good option for me. I mostly listen to music while at work where I can’t stream it.
June 12, 2014 @ 5:51 am
Sounds like they’ve been listen to the great Lucinda Williams.
June 12, 2014 @ 5:53 am
oops Listening to Lucinda
June 12, 2014 @ 10:10 am
I absolutely loved the Lion’s Roar. Can’t wait to listen to this when I have time.
June 12, 2014 @ 5:32 pm
For some reason I wasn’t really looking forward to this one, even though The Lion’s Roar was one of the best albums of 2012. I never thought they would be able to record something as good as the last record, but they did.
It’s great to see people from different countries putting their own twist on folk music.
June 12, 2014 @ 5:32 pm
I dunno–on my Fostex near-field monitors I am picking up some harsh early reflections off her eyelashes.
Neumann U87’s are known for being susceptible to that.
(Sweet harmonies, though!)
June 12, 2014 @ 7:05 pm
Folk pop, but not country. Don’t care for it at all.
June 14, 2014 @ 5:16 am
These girls belong to a very rare gathering. A gathering with singers who have a raw, true and pure extreme talent for singing and singing in harmony. As a Teacher of Music I know how difficult this is. Their last record ” Lions Roar” was a Little masterpiece and this one “Stay Gold” is even better! I cant beleive they come from Sweden
September 8, 2014 @ 11:38 am
To my surprise is the song My Silver Lining picked up by Â´popradioÂ´ in Holland. ThatÂ´s a nice surprise!