|The Lion's Roar album art courtesy of Wichita Recordings|
Speakers Rating: 85/100
Sisters Söderberg, Johanna and Klara of Sweden's First Aid Kit, bowled over critics, music lovers, and esteemed colleagues alike with the release of their folkie debut LP, The Big Black and The Blue, back in 2010. The effort was easily one of our favorite albums of that year, not to mention the girls' insane charm was enough to catch the ears of one Jack White, who declared he loved "their voices and their innocence." He went on to record a 7" with them, featuring covers of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier" and the classic blues standard, "It Hurts Me Too" at his own Third Man Studios.
What's interesting is White's attraction to First Aid Kit's unsullied allure when many reviewers (us, included) were simultaneously drawn to the duo's wise-beyond-their-years lyricism. How can two youngins embody both childlike wonder and a traveled world weariness? How can they then successfully weave those differing perspectives throughout their songwriting? It takes a cautious pen, but First Aid Kit has managed such balance on The Lion's Roar once again.
The album kicks off with the first single and title track, a down tempo yet brazen, traditional folk offering, which immediately showcases the girls' penchant for inventive - and sometimes rushed - phrasing. In the chorus, they declare themselves "goddamn cowards," but the tone set in the first few bars of "The Lion's Roar" says otherwise.
First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar
The next track, "Emmylou," finds First Aid Kit in alt-country territory, and the change of scenery suits them just fine. A former Jam of the Day, "Emmylou" pays homage to the girls musical heroes: Miss Harris, Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash, and June Carter. One doesn't have to exert much effort to comprehend this song's simple loveliness.
First Aid Kit - Emmylou
Truth be told, the middle tracks of The Lion's Roar aren't immediate standouts, like the powerful beginning and ending that bookend this section of the album. Songs like "Blue" and "This Old Routine" are perfectly pleasant, if not as memorable. They feature quaint storytelling, painting sweet vignettes of perhaps too familiar characters: the aging woman who lost her lover in her twenties and never recovered, the lonely husband who is burdened by palpable distance from his family. Of course, these subjects can always be elevated with beautiful harmonies, so don't discount the value of a powerful girl-girl vocal cocktail, especially of the Nordic variety.
|First Aid Kit | Photo by Neil Krug|
Nearing the album's conclusion, the duo takes us to new heights. The most spartan of all the songs, "New Year's Eve" truly allows the Söderberg voices to shine. Against a guitar strum, the lyrics find a way to remove the cliché from the overdone New Year's resolution theme: "Gotta stop lookin' at things like they're black and they're white/ gotta write more songs of a little more/ treat my friends better/ gotta stop worryin' about everything to the letter..."
The album finishes on a high note with the jubilant "The King of the World," a continued nod to the absurdist themes originally seen on The Big Black and The Blue. With a treasure trove of instruments (accordian! hand claps! fiddle! mariachi trumpets!) provided by The Felice Brothers and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) taking a verse, the tenth and final track of The Lion's Roar feels like a celebration, a puffing of the chest as the Söderberg gals declare themselves royalty.
This time, we agree.
First Aid Kit - The King of the World
The Lion's Roar is out January 24th on Wichita Recordings. Friends, we think it's worth your while. Pick it up here.