Sunday, August 25, 2013

Album Review: First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar (2012)

Being a bit of a latecomer to the joys of First Aid Kit, I picked up a copy of the band’s second album, The Lion’s Roar, pretty much on a whim. It’s a follow up to the 2010 debut, The Big Black & the Blue, and I was largely blind to what I’d find.

The first thing to note is that First Aid Kit is essentially Johanna and Klara Söderberg, two sisters hailing from Enskede, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. Which is quite an important detail given that their convincing take on southern country rock has all the hallmarks of having been honed in some ramshackle Midwestern prairie back block.
Which leads directly to the second thing; The Lion’s Roar is to all intents and purposes a country music album. And while on the surface it might come to us via one of the unlikeliest locations known to the genre, it has Americana firmly at its core. To that end, the Söderbergs call on heavyweight guns in the form of Bright Eyes pairing Conor Oberst and Nate Walcott, while seasoned Bright Eyes collaborator Mike Mogis is on hand to produce. There’s no surprise then that the album also veers towards folk, and crosses over to pop.

If there’s a third thing, it’s that I’m a little bit taken aback by just how much I’ve been enjoying this album. You can count the number of “country” albums I own on one hand. I’m just not a fan. Usually. Beyond Johnny Cash (and everyone loves Johnny right?) and one or two other artists, I’ve been completely immune to the genre’s wider charms.

Yet this variation presented by the Söderbergs and friends feels perfectly palatable, and a whole lot more besides. Tracks like the title track (and opener), and ‘Emmylou’ – an indirect homage to power couples like Johnny and June, and Gram and Emmylou – have a slightly surreal quality about them.

It’s not too difficult to get a little lost in it, awash with the album’s feelgood warmth as the tracks roll by. The Sixties-inflected psychedelia of ‘Dance To Another Tune’ is another highlight, and there’s something quite special in these heartfelt tunes, and the southern belle-aping vocal harmonies that carry them.
So it feels like it’s rather more than just another country music album. With the band’s debut having sold meaningfully only in the band’s homeland, The Lion’s Roar feels like a genuine breakout release for First Aid Kit. Released in early 2012 (told you I was a latecomer), this one upped the ante, topping the Swedish charts, going top 40 in the UK, and peaking at number four on the US Billboard Folk chart. The band is now firmly on the map, transported from a niche regional scene into the wider expanse of global exposure, and it will be interesting to see where the Söderberg sisters take things from here.
Here's 'Emmylou':



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