Review Summary: The Lion's Rawr
About four years ago, two Swedish sisters popped up on YouTube performing a cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.” The description in their video says, “We saw them [Fleet Foxes] live this weekend in Sweden and it was absolutely amazing. If you get a chance to see them live don't hesitate for a second!” and after watching their heartbreaking performance, you can only imagine how enamored they were with this mystical, Western idea of folk music. Now--an EP and a debut album later--Johanna and Klara Söderberg are in their late teens/early twenties, releasing their sophomore album alongside producer Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes.
It has only been a couple years since their first album, The Big Black & The Blue
, but the Söderberg sisters already sound matured and certain of where they have sonically landed. On the self-titled opener, Klara’s voice drawls out in front of bobbing acoustic guitars right before the power of Johanna’s voice joins in for a harmony of: “And I’m a goddamned coward / But then again, so are you.” The push behind their voices together is shivering and classic. Throughout the album, the sisters channel the best of the Americana that they both reference and endearingly imitate. Their voices shine out like the best of a female version of Fleet Foxes on songs such as “To A Poet,” one of the more melancholy affairs.
The one aspect of The Lion’s Roar
that both saves and hinders the sisters is Mogis’ production value. While done very well, the reverb-y drums and assorted instrumentation (oboe, organ, trumpet, flutes and more) tend to drown out what makes this album so memorable: the sisters’ voices. When they sing, “Don’t make no mistakes / And don’t regret / Don’t waste the time that is left / And then do it all with a goddamn smile” on “In the Hearts of Men,” there’s such command you’d never expect to come from twenty-something-year-olds. But then it’s quickly followed by beautiful “la la la’s,” sadly masked with echoing effects and downcast pianos. It’s like a cheap throwback to old Bright Eyes, thanks to Mogis. And then--speak of the devil--Conor Oberst shows up for a cameo on the closer “The King of the World,” a song of fanciful feelings, which Oberst can barely squeeze himself into. It’s actually kind of funny to hear the Söderbergs outplay Oberst--someone older than them who they probably look up to. (It’s not a bash on Oberst as it is an accolade for the sisters.)
The Lion’s Roar
oozes with feel-good and satisfying tones. Some of the music tends to just fade out like white noise for its pure pleasantry. But the panache and power of the vocals is what truly lifts the album up from the dreariness of hopeless folk knockoffs. The sisters have plenty more growing to do, but this album shows that there’s no reason to worry for them. The allusions on “Emmylou”--Emmylou Harris, June Carter, Gram Parsons, and Johnny Cash--show that Klara and Johanna aspire to grand heights. As they call out, “No, I’m not asking much of you / Just sing little darlin’, sing with me,” they’re saying it to themselves just as much as they’re singing it to you.