First Aid Kit: The Lion's Roar (Liberator)

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First Aid Kit: In the Hearts of Men
First Aid Kit: The Lion's Roar (Liberator)

For this, their international debut, the Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg who are up front of First Aid Kit, have had considerable assistance and acclaim.

Recorded by Mike Mogis in Omaha (who has done similar work for Bright Eyes, and BE himself, Conor Oberst, guests on the final track King of the World), The Lion's Roar would seem to confirm them being tipped as a new big thing (Mojo, The Word etc).

Already they have been recorded by Jack White, opened for Lykee Li at her invitation, have fans who include Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes (whose songs they grew up performing) and reviews are littered with references to the harmonies of the Louvin Brothers, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris (indeed a track on this album is entitled Emmylou) and Joni Mitchell.

They exist then in rare air, and their sound is filled out by Mogis on pedal steel, electric guitar and autoharp, James Felice and others (piano, strings where required) alongside their band of bassist Brent Soderberg (their father) and drummer Mattias Bergqvist.

And this is, at one level, enormously impressive in that it delivers exactly the kind of well-grounded Americana country-folk with harmonies that recall Gram'n'Emmylou/Fleet Foxes. And at its best -- the dreamy but thoughtful In the Hearts of Men which has a similarly engrossing production and lilt as Tiny Ruins; the dark, piano-gloom psychedelic-folk of Dance to Another Tune -- this can be utterly entrancing.

But that also implies that for the most part this rarely moves far from the familiar tropes of the genre. Blue has more of a contemporary feel (more alt.pop than country, despite the classic harmonies), but the narrative of This Old Routine (about loss of love) is a cliche not redeemed by the Everly Brothers' harmonies, and songs like To a Poet and I Found a Way are elevated by production and arrangement.

So this is an album which fulfills the contract of the idiom perfectly and First Aid Kit have understandably been acclaimed. There is also a depth and resonance to some of their lyrics which don't resort to the cliches of the idiom but have a frosty, emotionally removed quality.

But next time out you'd be wanting them to push at the parameters (as the Fleet Foxes did for their Helplessness Blues). There are flickers here of that possibility, notably the urban folk of New Year's Eve where Springsteen takes them for a walk, and you know you really do need to watch this space.

Right now they don't disappoint, but nor have they have made much of any point of difference.

(Note: the album comes with a free download code for six live tracks.)

First Aid Kit play the New Zealand Festival of Arts in Wellington, March 8

Interested in hearing more Swedish alt.country-folk? Then try this.

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