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By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 26th August 2014 at 4:00 pm
Johanna and Klara Soderberg, better known as First Aid Kit, are riding high these days on their success. Who would have ever guessed a couple years ago that two sisters from a suburb of Stockholm would be able to capture the imagination of folk music lovers around the world? This summer, they released their third album but their first for a major (Columbia), ‘Stay Gold’.
In this live video, the sisters perform an acoustic version of ‘Master Pretender’, one of the standout tracks from their latest album. In it, while they look like they’ve been filmed in a time gone by, their unmistakable harmonies are beautiful as they ever were. Watch it below.
Swedish duo First Aid Kit open their third album with lyrics that include “I won’t take the easy road”, and I wondered if they really were brave enough to do just that. After a captivating debut album and a typical sophomore effort, this third outing had the band backed by a major label (Columbia) for the first time. Were they going to be brave enough to take the positives a major can offer them without falling prey to the encumbrances such a deal can demand? After a thoughtful listen or two, I think it is safe to say that Johanna and Klara Söderberg have a good grasp of what works for them, they took what they needed from the industry machine and managed to stay true to their original sound.
‘Stay Gold’ is an album full of beautiful sorrow and exhortations to stay true to oneself. The title track itself wistfully wonders at the hard work of life and the inevitable pitfalls that only make one wish for an easier path to love. With repeated allusions to having to move on, undoubtedly referencing their nomadic lifestyle as touring musicians, an overall theme of loss and transiency is woven into the album. This LP is darker than the albums that preceded it but still retains the brightness that comes with the gorgeous harmonies of the sisters. Staying very true to their ‘70s flavoured folk style, the songs ring with light and clarity despite the more meaningful lyrics that lurk within the tunes.
The band also benefitted greatly from the add-ons a label can offer; their sound is a little richer, a little fuller than before. Indeed, full orchestration swells under a few songs such as ‘My Silver Lining’ and a perfectly understated flute captures the exact essence of ‘The Bell’. ‘Waitress Song’ soars through the middle of the album and even invokes a bit of Cyndi Lauper’s sentiment of having fun. The lyrics are a sad tale of trying to get over a bad break-up, but the story is told in a way that everyone can recognize. The Söderberg sisters still have a very clear preference for American country and folk; that style is now their style replete with pedal steel on ‘Master Pretender’ and the nearly two-step sound found on ‘Heaven Knows’. Fortunately, they carry it off well. The mournful piano ballad ‘A Long Time Ago’ closes out the experience with a soft letting go and leaves us quiet and contemplative.
Still exceedingly young (seriously, Klara is only 21 and has three full length releases and a major label deal under her belt!), the sisters have not only a lot of life left in their careers, but also a lot of life yet to live. If they can write songs with such depth and maturity at this point, it will be interesting to see what they develop as they experience life more fully.
First Aid Kit’s third album ‘Stay Gold’ is out now on Columbia Records. The sisters are scheduled to tour the UK in September. For more information on First Aid Kit, visit their official Web site.
Swedish sister act First Aid Kit will embark on a full UK tour in September, following the release of their third album ‘Stay Gold’ on the 9th of June on Columbia. They have also just released an elegant new video for ‘My Silver Lining’, which you can see below the tour date listing. (We featured the video for their recent track ‘Cedar Lane’ here just a few days ago.)
First Aid Kit have already sold out their Islington Assembly Hall show in London on the 15th of May and are scheduled to appear at the Latitude and Green Man Festivals this summer. Their September tour will include a date at the Royal Albert Hall; tickets for that show go on general sale at 9 AM on Friday the 16th of May.
Tuesday 16th September – Glasgow Old Fruitmarket
Wednesday 17th September – Belfast Empire Music Hall
Saturday 20th September – Manchester Albert Hall
Sunday 21st September – Bristol Colston Hall
Wednesday 24th September – London Royal Albert Hall
Swedish sisters First Aid Kit will be releasing their third album ‘Stay Gold’ on the 9th of June via Columbia Records. The album was produced by Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes fame. Ahead of that, they’ve revealed the promo for ‘Cedar Lane’, which is oddly psychedelic coloured and seems to suit the harder edge to this song than what we’re used to from the Soderberg sisters, yet the melodies and harmonies still sound classic First Aid Kit. Watch the video below.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 21st December 2012 at 11:00 am
Another year, and another top 5 gigs by bands that should not be missed live. How odd that three of them came one after another, but that’s the cool thing about Washington DC. Except for December through the beginning of February (the dead of winter) and June through August (festival season), there is always a reasonably good selection of bands coming through here. But that hasn’t always been the case.
I am often asked on my travels why I became a music blogger, and the simple answer has always been this: when I started covering shows in March 2009, I was getting increasingly upset about how many bands (American or international) would skip Washington entirely, either in favour of going to Philadelphia instead or would only consider New York, or maybe Boston, as the only cities worthy on the East Coast for a tour stop. I have had the opportunity to meet so many bands in the last 3+ years that Washington DC has now become considered on the list of cities bands sincerely wish to play in – or on the list that bands say they will definitely pass through on their next headline tours of North America. To know that I have been involved in making this paradigm shift a reality means so much. It means that I have done something for the city I’ve called home all these years and more importantly, have exposed thousands of music fans from varying walks of life who either work, go to school, or pass through our fine city to incredible music.
All five bands whose gigs landed them in my top 5 gigs of 2012 are worth every red cent you can put forward to go see them, either in their own gig or at a festival in 2013. Here’s the list…
5. Ash‘s 20th anniversary tour at DC9 (Thursday 15th November 2012) – what a surreal experience, finally seeing Ash live, in one of the smallest places to see bands in Washington. Even more surreal was after, when I actually got to talk to all of them and Tim Wheeler said I was a more appropriate panelist for Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable than he was. (This made me smile.) The set itself was brilliantly hard rocky, much more so than I ever would have imagined.
4. TGTF’s stage at Liverpool Sound City 2012, starring the Temper Trap, Clock Opera and Dear Prudence – Liverpool Academy of Arts (Friday 18th May 2012) – maybe this is cheating, choosing our own stage at Liverpool. But this night couldn’t have been any better, starring our friends since I took over as Editor of this Web site, the Temper Trap, our new friends from SXSW, Clock Opera, and a band from Brighton destined to bigger things, Dear Prudence. All we can say is THANK YOU to all the bands for making it such a memorable night and THANK YOU Sound City for letting us host this amazing stage.
3. Husky at Red Palace (Friday 17th November 2012) – it’s a sad day in Washington, as Red Palace, similar in intimate size to DC9, will be closing its doors at the end of 2012. But before then, I managed to catch the Melbourne band we befriended at this year’s Great Escape. Just check out this video from the show of the band performing an a capella version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Lover Lover Lover’ and you’ll understand why they’re so good live.
2. the Joy Formidable at St. Stephen’s Church (Saturday 10th November 2012) – the Welsh band have consistently placed in my top 5 gigs of the last 2 years; last year they were at #4 and in 2010, they were at #2. What made the difference and put them higher up this year? Seriously, how often do you see such a power house band in a space as small as a church’s rec room? (Well, it was a little bigger than that…but still.) Absolutely fabulous. And their new album ‘Wolf’s Law’ will be huge next year; just check out this live version of first single ‘Cholla’.
1. Two Door Cinema Club at 9:30 Club (Tuesday 2nd October 2012) – I was having serious reservations about Two Door’s live show, or rather some of their less than nice fans, after seeing them in Baltimore in June and getting shoved – hard – out of our positions down the front. I almost swore I’d never see them again. But I’m glad I changed my mind.
What was the first date on the autumn 2012 North American tour to sell out? Washington DC, of course. There is still some confusion on whether or not Barack Obama is a fan, but one thing is clear: of all the bands that I’ve known and loved, I did right by Two Door Cinema Club – and helped them become the superstars that they’ve dreamt of being since they started as kids in grammar school. I used to be able to see them after shows and hang out with them, but even as those days are over, they’ve never forgotten me. They are true gents.
St. Etienne at U Street Music Hall (Thursday 25th October 2012) – there’s something to be said for Sarah Cracknall, who may be over 40 but still rocks it out every night as if she was in her 20s.
Divine Fits at 9:30 Club (Thursday 18th October 2012) – it always feels incredibly validating when you see a ‘new’ band who hasn’t been touring much…and they turn out to be absolutely fantastic.
Keane with Mystery Jets at Strathmore Hall (Thursday 14th June 2012) – it’s effin’ Keane, for god’s sakes. And with Mystery Jets, who never tour in America! Win-win, really.
Paula and Karol at 93 Feet East in London (Tuesday 15th May 2012) – what do you do between music festivals? Go to a gig, of course. And at this one, I felt welcomed by the entire Polish population of London. What atmosphere.
First Aid Kit at Black Cat (Friday 30th March 2012) – this show was so spirited, the elder Soderberg lost her top right before the encore. Hardcore.
After the cut: the full list of all the gigs, in reverse chronological order, that I’ve been to in 2012 so you can have some idea how difficult my job was to choose favourites for the top 5 list. The runner-up gigs are also marked.
Continue reading Top Gigs of 2012: Editor’s Picks
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 18th December 2012 at 11:00 am
Wowsers, has this year flown by or what? I can scarcely believe we’re ready to celebrate Christmas in a week’s time, but you know what that means, boys and girls. It’s time for the editor’s top picks of 2012. Unlike most lists that have already published either in print or online, there will be no mentions of Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar or DIIV. Sorry. No, and this year, I tried to get away from dance as I could, which seems really odd considering where I found myself 2 years ago; this is probably good commentary on the music scene at large, where beats – either urban or poppy – have invaded nearly every facet of radio and except for the odd album or two, I found these to be completely devoid of heart. Or character. (But there were 3 in my top 10 that were arguably dance albums, so maybe there’s still hope…) Without further delay, here are my picks for 2012.
1. The Crookes – ‘Hold Fast’ (Fierce Panda) – In the shadow of love – in its electric (2010’s #1, Delphic’s ‘Acolyte’) and nostalgic, life affirming (2011’s #1, Noah and the Whale’s ‘Last Night on Earth’) forms – my #1 this year goes as far back to basics with the good ol’ pop-tinged rock ‘n’ roll of Sheffield’s Crookes. I’ve always thought that the smartest songwriters are those that can write catchy tunes while also offering up thought-provoking, intelligent lyric; guitarist Daniel Hopewell fits this description to a T.
This album would feel equally at home in the 1960s as it does in 2012. There is no studio trickery or fancy production here, just heartfelt (and heartbroken in ‘Maybe in the Dark’) feelings being sung to memorable melodies that can help to remind you of simpler times. Or simply remind you of the important people who have coloured your life. Do yourself a favour and get this album. If you’re not sold yet, read my review of ‘Hold Fast’ here.
2. Keston Cobblers Club – ‘One, for Words’ (Beatnik Geek) – It has been shown to us time and time again that family members who sing together make some incredible music. (For one, the Beach Boys.) In Julia and Matthew Lowe, we have familial alchemy at work again, this time on some incredible folk pop. When one album can make you laugh, make you cry, make you wistful for a former lover, make you remember through happy tears your life experiences, that is truly special indeed, and that’s what I’ve gotten out of ‘One, for Words’. I expect to be playing this album again and again until my final days. You can read my review of their debut album here.
3. Grimes – ‘Visions’ (4AD) – Claire Boucher is now one of the hottest commodities in the music business these days, and surely the biggest game changer from Canada since Arcade Fire. Every time I tried to catch the baby-voiced master of synths and sequencers in 2012, I never actually managed to get in. Thankfully though, I have this album to keep me company whenever things have gone boring in my life. Variety is the key word of this album, with ambient, industrial, pop and minimalist genres all touched on for one eclectic group of songs. Every time you pick up this album, you’ll hear something exciting you missed the last time around, and I don’t think it’s possible for ‘Visions’ to get old. Read my review here.
4. Casiokids – ‘Aabenbaringen over aaskammen’ (Moshi Moshi) – There’s no way I could have forgotten the craziness of Casiokids’ third album. Even in the middle of winter, thoughts of a pineapple-shaped maraca, the sheer wonkiness of ‘Det Haster!’ and ‘Dresinen’, and disco and jungle beats working in harmony on the same album easily warmed my heart. This is controlled chaos, in a way that only Nordics manage to do it. And even if you go into this album thinking, “no way is this album going to lift my mood”, trust me, it will. You’ll even leave it with a knowing yet silly grin on your face.Read more here.
5. Husky – ‘Forever So’ (Sub Pop) – The Husky debut album was an example of when you keep hearing the name of a band so many times, you’re wondering what the fuss is all about. Well, wonder no more. If you’re the first-ever signing to a indie label as storied as Sub Pop, then you better bring the goods, and Husky Gawenda and co. do just that in a Fleet Foxes meets the sadness of Nick Drake vehicle. If you’ve ever been slayed by gorgeous harmonies, this album’s for you. Read my review of it here.
After the cut: some albums that just missed the top 5 cut, and others that disappointed.
Continue reading Top Albums of 2012: Editor’s Picks