A couple tracks into First Aid Kit’s The Lion’s Roar, I decided to start my “best of the year” lists early. That’s how much I love it. The album came in first on the albums list (I have been too busy working on a writing project for the past month and haven’t had much time to listen to new music) and the song “Emmylou” came in first on the songs list… well, at least until I got to “This Old Routine.” Then, that song shot up to number one.
It’s when I hear an album I really love that I decide to start my lists, just so I can put it at number one, and see if any albums can top it. It’s sad to see an album you love move to the number two, or number three, or number four spot; it’s more bittersweet, actually, since it means another record was good enough to top it. I’m sure a few albums will come out that I’ll like better than this one (we’re just exiting the first month of the year, after all), but I also know one thing: had the album been released last year, it would have easily made my top ten.
First Aid Kit is a folk duo composed of two Swedish sisters, Johanna and Klara Söderberg. As somebody whose great-grandparents came to Ellis Island from Stockholm, I must ask… what the hell is it with Sweden? Are the people from there just musically talented by blood, or something? There was ABBA, Love Is All, Robyn, and now these two sisters, who’ve released an album that should make almost every single person on the country charts jealous. Sweden has wonderful food, wonderful people, and wonderful pop music, which are three of the best things in life. Needless to say, I am proud of my ancestry.
Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Johanna and Klara Söderberg. It’s sad enough that an indie-folk duo hailing from Sweden shows more of a country influence than most country stars (today’s country is basically just modern rock with a Southern twang and lyrics about barbeques). But, the saddest part is their ages: Johanna is twenty-one and Klara is eighteen. Eighteen! On “Emmylou,” they sing: “I’ll be your Emmylou/And I’ll be your June/And you’ll be my Gram/And my Johnny, too.” A Gram/Emmylou and a Johnny/June reference in the same song? Where have these girls been all my life? Well, considering Klara was born the same year as me, probably doing the same things I was doing, mixed with actually starting the band I only talked about starting.
But, Johanna and Klara aren’t just retro for the sake of being retro. They back up their country sound with songs good enough to be sung by Emmylou and June themselves and, meanwhile, they show off their great vocal and harmony skills. As I mentioned before, “This Old Routine” is my favorite track on the album. The best part of this song is a high note during the chorus that, even after my fifth time listening to the song, still gives me chills.
Looking at their Wikipedia page (shut up, it’s not like books and other websites have any less a chance of being inaccurate), it says that they have been compared to Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom. I don’t hear it. Where Fleet Foxes flaunt their folkie sound on albums constructed with prog-rock pretention and Joanna Newsom flaunts hers with tracks so overlong that you find yourself checking the clock, Johanna and Klara make songs. Actual songs that don’t take ten minutes to get their points across. First Aid Kit isn’t here to satisfy Pitchfork (whose Rachael Maddux wrote an awful, but positive, review of the album). They’re here to make music and, at a time when somebody can be called a musical genius for making glitchy keyboard sounds, we need songs.
Leave it to the Swedes to take rock and roll back.