Album Review: First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

By on Monday, 23rd January 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

The press release for ‘The Lion’s Roar’, the sophomore album by First Aid Kit, makes much of the fact that this album was recorded in America and allowed the Soderberg sisters to channel their favourite folk and country music made in the good ol’ USA. Maybe therein lies the problem: ‘The Big Black and the Blue’ released in 2010 was far more intimate, as if they’d lit a fire inside their hearts and welcomed you inside.

For some reason I just don’t get that feeling with ‘The Lion’s Roar’, so maybe the comparatively wide open spaces of America encouraged the sisters to spread their wings a bit more than if they had stayed in Stockholm to record? Or maybe not. The beauty of the vocals isn’t open to debate; you can easily say, “yes, that’s First Aid Kit!” as you hear the voices begin on each track, but some of the songs sound a bit too familiar.

Let’s focus on the strengths. Title track and the first single released in December, ‘The Lion’s Roar’ (Ellie’s single review here, previous Video of the Moment here) is hauntingly beautiful in its sad yearning. “Every once in a while I’d sing a song / that would rise above the mountains and the stars and the sea / and if I wanted it to, it would lead you back to me”: I mean, seriously. Have you heard anything as beautiful as this? It’s a nice sign of maturity, going from ‘Waltz for Richard’ (acoustic version video shot in Melbourne, Australia here), the standout track from ‘The Big Black and the Blue’. Then the first week of January, the girls released the video for ‘Emmylou’ (previous Video of the Moment here), their next single to be released in mid-February. Another gorgeous harmony-laden track, it gave the sisters a chance to name-check some of their favourite American country / folk legends (Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and country royalty couple Johnny and June Carter Cash).

Based on these two songs alone, I had really high hopes for this album. (Admittedly, I probably set the imaginary bar far too high.) So when I finally got the album and had a listen to ‘I Found a Way’, I was unnerved and disappointed how similar it sounded to these: it’s like they reworked the verses from the title track and then reworked the chorus of ‘Emmylou’ and fitted it in. I’ve been told by guitarists that there are only so many chord progressions in rock and when you write a song, you just rearrange or repeat them, but still…

And then we get to the weaknesses. The American (Native American) influence resonates in ‘Wolf’, with tribal drumming and the “hye-ey-ahhs”. A little odd, to say the least. ‘In the Hearts of Men’ is pretty but it’s a little pedestrian, a little too much like a lullaby. You know they can write a song like this, and it’s not exciting. Same goes for ‘To a Poet’, though it’s nice to hear a string section behind them. If anything, this is the track that shows what American studio muscle can produce.

Finally, I’d like to bring your attention to the last two tracks show the two differing faces of First Aid Kit. ‘New Year’s Eve’ is sparse, slow and pensive and despite my initial impressions, the sisters insist this is a hopeful song. ‘King of the World’ on the other hand is hand clappy, ukulele driven, and features the Felice Brothers in their quest for what is described as “mariachi hoedown”. I’ve either just thoroughly amused or terrified you with that last comment. While I do think everyone should have a listen to ‘The Lion’s Roar’, I can see how you might not pick it up again. For myself, I really wanted to love this album after falling in love with the first two singles, but ultimately I was disappointed.

6.5/10

‘The Lion’s Roar’, the second album from First Aid Kit, is out today on Wichita Recordings. The duo are heading out on a UK/Irish tour in the second half of February; we’ve got all the details here.

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