It’s great fun being a music snob. Not only can I sit here barely managing to pretend that I have the faintest idea what I’m on about, I can also do what everyone else does and use made-up genre titles to cover up the fact that I am listening to something I like that seems to belong to those musical corners that I’d normally prefer to leave ignored and unhoovered.
So I say “Hooray!” for the host of music journalists worldwide for employing/inventing the terms Folk, Americana and especially Folk-tinged Americana to define songs, artists and albums that would otherwise be termed Country and/or Western. I guess it helped when the uniform changed: CFC regulations regarding hairspray propellants ensured that hair sizes (and, by extension, also hats) were reduced; rhinestone-bedecked costumes were ditched in favour of garments better-suited for outdoor life; and influences crept in from outside its own heartland to make something that we can all enjoy without worrying about having to learn convoluted line-dancing routines in order to do so.
This lengthy wittering is all a smokescreen however: a justification for me to say that I really like something that more than once harkens back to something that I spent much of my youth avoiding.
The first two tracks of Sweden’s bafflingly and endearingly-titled First Aid Kit are almost pure Country, particularly the second song Emmylou which namechecks several of the genre’s more famous exponents (ie, I’ve heard of them). ”Almost” being the operative word here, as my musical prejudices are somewhat smoothed-over by the addition of other elements. A more European (and specifically English) folk presence can be detected during the opening (and title) track’s waltz, and the vocal phrasing of Emmylou‘s verses recalls a certain Mr Pecknold above the lap steel.
After this opening brace, The Lion’s Roar opens up to both take in and comfortably give out a lifetime’s worth of unique interpretation of a country’s musical heritage as seen from another. Blue takes in the sights and sounds of a 1960s Greenwich Village while This Old Routine treads similar streets but given a Factory wash thanks to sad vocals evoking the spirit of Nico and a background Velvet Underground drone (supplied in subversive folksy fashion by a pump organ), and elsewhere the Pacific Northwest and Grand Ole Southeast are duly and lovingly represented.
Wherever the influences emerge and whatever they may be, they are all well-honed and beautifully fashioned by First Aid Kit’s sibling heart, Klara and Johanna Söderberg. With a nice, big production and plenty of instrumentation from Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis behind them (Conor Oberst also popping in to add vocals to King of the World), the sisters’ strong, charmingly accented vocals are the centrepiece to every song, providing harmonies largely reminiscent of Fleet Foxes especially during the constantly moving Dance To Another Tune.
All this dual female-led Euro/US harmonising suggests something akin to Smoke Fairies (another favourite of this site), but the similarities are in spirit only: the Smoke Fairies’ approach to their Transatlantic craft is a much more stately affair than First Aid Kit’s generally more “outdoorsy” sound; this probably comes as little surprise when much of their wealth of early Youtube footage takes place without the use of amplification either in their garden or the surrounding forest, which would also go some way towards explaining the power of the sisters’ voices when they have such a huge area in which to practice.
The Lion’s Roar is precisely that – it’s bold, confident and proud. It also takes its influences to new places and new audiences, and deservedly so. It’s also taught me not to be so dismissive of first impressions: not every C-word is a bad word to this blog any more.