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Sister Act First Aid Kit Are Resplendently Winsome on 14-Karat ‘Stay Gold’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: June 11, 2014
Label: Columbia

“I won’t take the easy road,” cry Johanna and Klara Söderberg of First Aid Kit in the chorus of “Silver Lining,” their third album Stay Gold’s opening track. Lord knows they could’ve: These Stockholm sisters are young and beautiful, and no doubt have access to their nation’s pop Svengalis who could reshape them into conventional stars. Their last album, 2012’s The Lion’s Roar, was a chart-topper back home. But Johanna and Klara don’t need those people. They write their own songs; their dad Benkt Söderberg, veteran of ’80s rock band Lolita Pop, plays bass, and they’ve got Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, their first serious musical crush, producing them.

The road they take is a singular one that unites blatantly traditional country, soft indie rock, ’60s singer-songwriters, Swedish folk, and now, on Stay Gold, ornately arranged baroque pop. “Silver Lining” announces the difference: No longer confining themselves to what three people can play onstage, First Aid Kit now flaunt orchestrations as grand as their newly majestic melodies, a combination that conjures wide-open Midwestern skies, Southern swamps, West Coast palm trees, Simon & Garfunkel’s New York, and even Swedish fjords. For as hard as they crush on Americana, a romance made manifest in The Lion’s Roar‘s attention-grabbing “Emmylou,” where they offer to be their suitors’ Emmylou Harris and June Carter if those guys will be their Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash, they’ve got that particularly Scandinavian thirst for sunlight that now, more than ever, makes their music yearn and radiate.

Still in their early ’20s, Johanna and Klara wail through identifiably fresh pipes, but their lyrics often feel old and world-weary. “My life is a setting sun,” they proclaim in “Fleeting One.” Even in “White Picket Fence,” where they contemplate love and commitment, they anticipate how the story’s going to end. But settling down remains a fantasy: Stay Gold instead fixates on the flux of touring. At least half the album references “the road”—”Silver Lining,” the even lusher title track, the travel-worn “Cedar Lane,” their fanciful “Waitress Song,” and the flute-festooned “The Bell,” which feels as though it could waltz right into ABBA’s “Fernando.”

Ultimately, it’s their sisterly harmonies — not their lyrical content — that provide the salve of this First Aid Kit. For as lonely and as longing as their words and tunes get, Johanna and Klara still have each other: Even though Klara, the guitarist and youngest one, typically takes the lead, Johanna almost always joins her after a phrase or two, and that near-constant vocal bond makes even their saddest songs — quite often their best — a shared celebration. So when they lament the damage done by their rolling stone ways in the album’s concluding “A Long Time Ago,” the Söderbergs’ shining synergistic voices nevertheless imply mutual steadfastness. May that gold never tarnish.