Review Summary: The Swedish sisters take a significant step up the folk pecking order.
When First Aid Kit emerged from the shadows with their Drunken Trees
EP almost four years ago, you always got the impression that their name was set to stick around for the considerable future. Ok, that debut release and subsequent album The Big Black And The Blue
did pass by largely without fuss, but such was the obvious talent at work it didn't take much working out that Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg were destined for bigger things. As such, it comes as little surprise that they've pulled the stops with this sophomore effort, building expertly upon their strengths all while snuffing out what few weaknesses they had, with the end product being something of a modern folk classic.
That statement alone indicates that The Lion's Roar
is a cut above anything that the duo have mustered to date, but even that struggles to justify just how big a step forward this record is. The Big Black And The Blue
was populated largely by standard fireside folk tunes, which although by no means outstanding had more than enough charm and consistency to get by. Here, though, they've upscaled their ambitions dramatically, with a collection of immaculately written songs which expand upon each and every positive trait they have going for them. It's a similar balance between a basic folk aesthetic and advanced pop songwriting that Bright Eyes achieved with Cassadaga
, but make no mistake, this is a record that has First Aid Kit's mark stamped all over it, something that's always clear in spite of the progress they've made.
The pair of singles which introduce the album make this apparent right from the off, with both representing a momentous step up from anything they've produced until this point. The title track which opens proceedings not only displays a vastly expanded instrumental pallet (a feature which is fully utilised throughout all ten tracks), but also a heightened focus on dynamics, with an ever altering pace complementing the more memorable and direct choruses to great effect. Following track 'Emmylou' is even better, bearing many of the same characteristics but wrapping them tightly in the duo's trademark layers of loveliness with the end result being arguably their finest song to date. With both being relatively upbeat, that opening pair immediately pose a question as to whether the sisters have lightened up, but as [i]The Lion's Roar[i/] progresses it becomes obvious that what has in fact happened is rather a sharpening of the extremes. To state it simply, the happy songs are happier, and the sad songs are sadder, though this does little to curb the record's cohesion, something that's evident by the fact that the irresistibly chirpy 'Blue' and its somewhat more reflective neighbour 'This Old Routine' can sit side by side in perfect harmony.
Gloriously sprightly closer 'King Of The World' provides another highlight, ending things in the best way possible, and even throwing up another Bright Eyes connection in the form of a fantastic guest appearance from Conor Oberst. It's ironic that this track will inevitably be given the most attention, as this is a record which trumps everything that Oberst has produced with Bright Eyes, or for that matter any of his other projects for a good seven years, and that alone should give you an idea of it's quality. An early musical touchstone for 2012, The Lion's Roar
has the potential to be the making of First Aid Kit, and with a little justice and exposure should cement the sisters as a force to be reckoned with in the modern folkesphere.