Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit might have been forgiven if their third studio album, Stay Gold, was merely above average. Their previous record, The Lion's Roar (2012), was a transcendent collection of slow-burning folk balladry. (Show of hands those of you who still have "Emmylou" stuck in your head.) As it turns out, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg are only getting better with age.
This barely twenty-something duo manages to occupy a lyrical and musical space well beyond their years and place of origin. They tackle weighty subject matter with the allusive grace of road-weary veterans and not only are they conversant in Americana, but they seem intent to imbue it with a new pop sensibility. While The Lion's Roar was an exercise in infectious melancholy, this time the sisters from suburban Stockholm appear eager for change and keen to move on. There's heartbreak, loneliness and homesickness here, but the album's subtext is restlessness.
"I don't know if I'm scared of dying but I'm scared of living too fast, too slow/ Regret, remorse, hold on, oh no I've got to go," they sing on the get-up-and-go opening track, "Silver Lining." But don't expect these two to take the easy road: "I could move to a small town and become a waitress/ Say my name was Stacey and I was figuring things out" ("Waitress Song"). Elsewhere, the reason for leaving seems clearer: "I always thought that you'd be here/ But shit gets fucked up/ And people just disappear" ("Master Pretender").
For their major label debut, the sisters wisely stuck with what worked the last time around, teaming up again with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), employing string arrangements by Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes, Broken Bells and Rilo Kiley) and cozy, acoustic guitars, rolling drums, lap steel, piano and woodwind for texture without ever crowding out the thoughtful songwriting and relentlessly beautiful harmonies.
Sometimes sunny days need bittersweet soundtracks to make them better. Gold may turn grey, but not in the hands of this duo. (Columbia)