First Aid Kit, Stay Gold – album review
Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg have been consistently winning hearts with their beautiful, country-influenced folk music and their shiny, swooshing hair since they appeared on Youtube doing Fleet Foxes covers back in 2008. So rapid has been First Aid Kit’s ascent that they were soon playing the main stage at Glastonbury and selling-out countless gigs at salubrious venues such as Sydney Opera House, while releasing two critically-acclaimed albums along the way.
So it is amid a certain level of anticipation that the humble duo unleash their third longplayer, Stay Gold. Recorded at ARC studios in Omaha, once again with producer by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk), this is their Columbia Records debut. However, any fears that the sisters would be weighed down by the heightened expectations of their ever-growing fanbase – or that the change of label would have a negative impact – vanish by the first chorus of opening track, My Silver Lining. Goosebump-inducing strings and those trademark vocal harmonies tell us in no uncertain terms that we are in safe hands here.
“I’ve always believed I was free/That I had some sense of integrity that would rise above whatever tried to change me,” they sing in Master Pretender as the record continues to demonstrate confidence and ambition from the young Söderberg sisters. By the time the next song, and title-track, builds into another huge chorus, it is obvious that the accompanying lyrics “what if our hard work ends in despair,” are entirely unwarranted concerns. This is an album of strong, vivid stories, played out with a brand of country folk which nods to American influences from the past while still sounding new and exciting.
After this powerful opening, the piano and brushed drums of Cedar Lane builds into another rousing denouement, before Shattered & Hollow touches on the recurring theme of bruised defiance, “I’d rather be broken than empty/I’d rather be shattered than hollow.” The production is fantastic. Every instrument is clear and crisp and those vocals… my goodness, those vocals. Joyfully though, through the production, the record retains that feeling of a country band playing live. Heaven Knows bounces along like the most fun hoedown ever, before A Long Time Ago ends the record on a melancholic note with harmonies lamenting a failed relationship. “I was the one you counted on, but I was never the one for you/Now I know, I lost you a long time ago.”
Undoubtedly one of the releases of the year so far, Stay Gold is a record to play loud on long, sunkissed roadtrips. Throw an arm high out of the car window and allow the wind to blow through your fingers while you sing along to these honest, soaring, heartfelt songs. Such is the dexterity of the songwriting and so vast is this album’s landscape of emotion that it can soundtrack times of heartbroken fragility as well as those chest-beating moments when you feel like you can take on the entire world single-handed.
Stay Gold is released on 9th June. Deluxe collector’s editions will be available for pre-order at thisisfirstaidkit.com, featuring limited edition gold vinyl and an autographed 14×20 lithograph while supplies last. Pre-order here.
Review by Bobby Townsend