For many artists, it seems to be difficult to draw on the spark that made their first albums great to produce successful future albums. The sophomore slump can cripple even the best songsmiths, but European folk duo First Aid Kit is not among them.
Hailing from Sweden, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg gained traction as a musical act after their 2008 cover of Fleet Foxes’s “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” went viral on YouTube. Diehard fans at the band’s recent Phoenix show even requested that the sisters perform that cover (they did, to an enthusiastic applause).
In 2010, First Aid Kit released its phenomenal debut album, “The Big Black and the Blue,” which it followed up with 2012’s “The Lion’s Roar.” Two albums in and First Aid Kit were only moving in one direction: up.
Since the band successfully stomped on any talk of a sophomore slump, it has seen its single “Emmylou” — a love letter to country’s greatest musical couples — cement itself in conversation of great modern folk songs.
This summer, the sisters are releasing their third, highly anticipated album, “Stay Gold,” a dazzling, folksy fever dream of sweeping music and the sisters’ signature harmonies. It kicks off with the stunning “My Silver Lining,” which will appeal to fans of string accompaniment and that particular kind of melancholy timelessness that makes Lana del Rey’s “Born to Die” album so great.
The record’s title track is aptly named, with a refrain that will rattle around your head for days. It, along with “My Silver Lining” and the haunting “Shattered & Hollow,” drips with nostalgia and Golden Age-whimsy.
These songs should sound sad. Everything about the individual elements that make up much of this album points to despondency. Still, there’s something enchanting about how perfectly the Söderberg sisters craft their warm harmonies and sweeping statements on life and the choices people make along the way.
The album also features a few rollicking, vintage folk songs, sprinkled among the anthemic showstoppers on this record. Tracks like “Master Pretender,” “Cedar Lane” and “Waitress Song” pay homage to classic singers like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, who were just two of the country greats known for telling stories in song.
Listeners can clap along to “Heaven Knows,” an up-tempo track that features everything from shouting to call-and-response to some pretty impressive vocal slides.
Finally, the sisters say goodbye to listeners with the remorseful “A Long Time Ago,” a look back at the point when a relationship started to unravel. The girls parse out the relationship’s failures with the stirring verse: “City of strangers / out of danger / In your arms I was half awake / half asleep,” and then they drift off with whispers of grudges forgotten and thoughts of love.
It seems an appropriate end to an album that approaches darkness openly but doesn’t dwell there.
First Aid Kit’s “Stay Gold” isn’t just a good folk rock release; it is a phenomenal album, from start to finish.
Fans of Andrew Bird or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will likely already be familiar with the Söderberg sisters, but for the rest, it’s worth getting acquainted with this album. It’ll make the perfect dreamy southwest summer playlist.
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