Album Review

The Lion's Roar

The Lion's Roar

by First Aid Kit


Libration
7.5 / 10
24th January 2012

Reviewed by Justin Paul


As befits the world’s third largest exporters of music, Swedes seem capable of turning their pale hands to every musical subgenre. They nailed down beardy sing and dancealong pop over 30 years ago and have since given us electro-spook with The Knife and Fever Ray; rawk revivals with Soundtrack of Our Lives and The Hives; dream haze electronica from The Field and Studio; pop princesses, Robyn and Lykke Li; indie darlings, Radio Dept., Little Dragon and Niki and The Dove, before we even begin to mention Ace of Base and he of the bouncing balls, Jose Gonzalez. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to see two young Swedish sisters licking the dustbowl of Americana.

Johanna and Klara Soderberg are the heavily hyped First Aid Kit. While still in their teens, the sisters catapulted to prominence with their YouTube take on Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ in 2008, a performance that so impressed their heroes that they were invited to perform with the Foxes on their world tour. The sisters’ harmonies received universal acclaim on 2010’s spare and wistful The Big Black and Blue but many critics lamented a lack of variety. This lack has been remedied with the release of The Lion’s Roar.

The bold title suggests a fuller, more confident sound, and this is provided by a full band. The music is warmer and more uplifting, but for those who are happiest when miserable, the world-weary, wise-beyond-their-years themes still run deep. The title song opens the album with its foreboding, ‘The pale morning sings of forgotten things’, a boyfriend dies in a car-crash at 22 in ‘Blue’, ‘This Old Routine’ tracks a stale marriage and there’s the echo-chamber gloom of ‘Dance to Another Tune’. But it’s the lighter tracks that one returns to on The Lion’s Roar. ‘Emmylou’, ushered in with brush work and pedal steel, is pure cotton candy - a guilty pleasure so sweet it will rot your teeth - but before long you may find yourself clapping and swaying from side-to-side as you sing along … ‘I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June and you’ll be my Gram and Johnny too … Just sing, little darlin’, sing with me.’ The acoustic guitar and exquisite melodies of album highlight ‘To a Poet’ conjure the beards of Fleet Foxes until it swells to a climax on soaring strings. First Aid Kit travelled to Omaha to work with another of their heroes, Bright Eyes, and his producer, Mike Mogis, and in the final track, ‘King of the World’, Oberst’s influence becomes manifest when he, for perhaps the first time in his career, sings some lyrics that fit the line. The track is an unexpectedly cheerful stomp that opens up to include handclaps, fiddle, an accordion … and mariachi horns.

On the first few listens, First Aid Kit appear to wallow in country cliché, but their take on this classic genre is increasingly their own, and subsequent listens to The Lion’s Roar show that the band surrounds the sisters’ beautiful voices with warmth and depth. Nonetheless, despite the stand-outs, I had to drag my attention back to too many songs. At the moment, the sisters lack the raw bite of stalwarts such as Gillian Welch and Neko Case, or even the precociously-gifted Laura Marling. A first-aid kit is a stop-gap measure used to stabilise the patient before the real deal, the life-saving medicine comes to the rescue: the hopes for the Soderbergs’ third release will be high.






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