“I don’t know if I’m scared of dying / but I’m scared of living too fast, too slow.” In the first verse of ‘My Silver Lining’, the track which kicked off their third album campaign, Johanna and Klara Söderberg – the sisters who make up First Aid Kit – share the feelings of confusion which have emerged as a new theme in their music since the breakout success of their second album The Lion’s Roar. “I’ve woken up in a hotel room, my worries as big as the moon / Having no idea who or what or where I am” they sing, honestly, facing the problems which all late-teens/early-twenties have to deal with, while being on the road, a long way from home. There’s no doubt that their experiences in the last two years have shaped this record greatly, not only in the lyrical content, but in the self-certain sound which they have spawned. While they wrestle with regrets and personal issues, it is with conviction that First Aid Kit perform, to make this their most optimistic body of work yet.
The full-bodied folk which emerges in the rousing americana folk tracks like ‘Master Defender’ and ‘Heaven Knows’ (the latter of which features a screaming breakdown of barn-dance country and western), is also new and excitably refreshing for this record. Not only do these tracks represent a broadening of genre and instrumentation, but also in lyrics, with ‘Master Defender’ being the first in which the good girls from Sweden use an expletive, which comes as quite a shock to those who are familiar with their previous records.
The title track ‘Stay Gold’ begins as a delicate affair but grows into a brilliant, belting chorus, including a pacey middle eight section backed up with rolling percussion and a build up of stringed instruments and stripped back vocals. The unabashedly forward ‘Cedar Lane’ follows, continuing to rally support for a First Aid Kit with clobbering choruses of glorious harmonies, desperately questioning “how can I break away from you?”. If you hadn’t worked it out by this stage, these women aren’t the timid girls they once were.
Stay Gold is the natural progression for a young band who are finding their feet with lyrics and instrumentation. From their meek yet pleasant debut filled with imaginings of adult dilemmas and make-believe situations, to their sophomore which still featured hints of this, but was more heavily influenced by their own experiences, this record shows the band maturing both personally and musically. It exhibits a much more comprehensive and confident sound, and deals with personal problems with a much more down-to-earth approach. A thicker timbre of instrumentation from teams of strings on almost all tracks, to the woodwind which flutters through ‘The Bell’ and ‘Fleeting One’, sets this apart from anything they have attempted before.
While ‘Shattered Hollow’ and ‘The Bell’ feature unwelcomely abrupt endings which jolt the album somewhat, these minor discrepancies do nothing to take away from the sublimely consummate harmonies which unrelentingly flow through the record. The final song, ‘A Long Time Ago’ is a moment of devastation and bliss in equal measures for this very reason. Klara’s voice is soaked in sadness, at first only accompanied by a piano, before her sister joins as the pair sing together over fragile strings. Peeling away the layers of guitars and percussion, ‘A Long Time Ago’ shines as a beacon to the heartbroken and lonely, sure to send shivers down spines and tears down cheeks.
Stay Gold is bookended by the best tracks on the album, but those that appear in between provide a thoughtful reflection about maturing on the road. Critics who adored The Lion’s Roar will undoubtedly say that they’ve lost some of the vulnerability which made their first two albums so exquisitely intimate, but what they have lost in moments of reserved contemplation, they more than make up for in the generous helpings of instrumentation, and their most genuine lyrics to date.
Stay Gold will be released in the UK on 9th June through Columbia Records.