Impressionable in youth, the siblings Söderberg aren’t influenced by the Gothic electro-flavoured art-pop that is indigenous to their native Sweden, rather their references lie in the rustic roots of the United States. The girls’ debut record The Big Black & The Blue is indebted to the woodsy nu-folk of Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom, however, on their more assured followed up, The Lion’s Roar, First Aid Kit make a screaming declaration of allegiance to an older America and the heritage of country & folk music that shaped their peers. Recorded in Omaha with Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis, the record is full of rattletrap, bluegrass-inflected reels and lulling ballads lead by the sisters’ inborn harmonies on songs that frame life battles and bittersweet memories.
For all their apparent heartache, Johanna and Klara appear bright-eyed and chirpy in The Workman’s Club in Dublin. Still, they open with a dampening number about the boredom of marriage, ‘The Old Routine’. Sung by a 19 year-old, it’s hardly based on experience but Klara’s crystal rasp is pretty convincing in its weariness.
It’s an austere presentation, Johanna on keys, Klara on guitar with just a drummer for company. Klara takes lead vocals, and with good reason. Her voice is utterly rare, it has the timbre of an accordion, not billowy but chromatic and textured. Johanna’s choral is almost opposite, deeper and much rounder, making for perfect attunement.
Weariness is thematic. It pops up again on ‘Hard Believer’, “Love is tough, time is rough.” It’s unlikely that First Aid Kit have been through the romantic mill proper, but they sure love to sing about it. Their heroes, on the other hand, have gotten a right battering over the years. None more so than Ms. Harris, of which they pay tribute to on ‘Emmylou’ – a song that traces a family tree of a golden era in Americana, listing some debaucherous characters in the process.
Considering neither girl can legally buy booze in the US, it’s a bit hard to imagine Johanna and Klara sleeping with a bottle of bourbon, or waking up mangled in a random Joshua Tree hotel. With dad Denkt on the sound desk, it’s even less likely. With all the Sylvanian Family sweetness, there’s a heavy reliance on charm to their performance. To a certain extent, they hide behind it (and their fabulous hair), it’s as if they still don’t fully believe their own talent. Hushing the audience for an unplugged mic-less a capella, their vernal giggling fed the crowd’s giddiness. It was only when they started singing that silence fell; ‘Ghost Town’ flattened the room with mournful and enchanting chorals. Here in lies their strength: First Aid Kit can sing with heavy sentiment but with a springlike beauty, tragedy and melancholy never sounded so pretty.
Besides, it’s not all down in the mouth. ‘To A Poet’ rocks and ‘Wolf’ swaggers with a wordless “hey, hey”, Beach Boys-like chorus. Choosing to cover Fever Ray’s ‘When I Grow Up’ is reminder of the band’s more contemporary leanings, and the jaunty, countryfied arrangement is inspired. Icy, moody keys intro the main set closer, as ‘The Lion’s Roar’ ascends with bountiful harmonies and lush instrumentation. The last song of the night goes to the Conor Oberst co-penned ‘King Of The World’, joined by support act Samantha Krane, it’s a rollicking and fittingly youthful send off.
Photos by James Goulden