One of the first must check out albums that came out in 2018 was from the Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg in First Aid Kit. After their debut in 2010, the sisters continued to grow with their last two albums. 2014’s The Lion’s Roar had several great singles and 2016’s Stay Gold capitalized on that success by making their sound a bit slicker but not quite crossing over to pure pop.
After a relationship break-up, Klara met up with her sister to begin work on Ruins before eventually moving North to Portland in order to work with producer Tucker Martine. Unlike Stray Gold, Ruins dials things back with more a minimal sound. First track “Rebel Heart” brings FAK’s distinctive harmonies to the forefront right away. First single “It’s A Shame” is a standout before the cliché named but pretty early 60s styled ballad “Fireworks” slows things down.
“To Live A Life” is spare with just an acoustic guitar moving most of the track. From there it’s a mix of old style country and folk tunes with the last third of Ruins never particularly breaking any new ground. A good but not great album from First Aid Kit.
“And the only man you ever loved, you thought was going to marry you, died in a car accident when he was only 22, and then you just decided love wasn’t for you” The touching lyric from First Aid Kit’s 2012 single “Blue” shows the poignancy of the young Söderberg sisters. Old souls, wise beyond their years and every other similar cliché can be thrown their way. Still just 24 and 21 years old, Johanna and Klara are already veterans of the music industry – having had #1 records in their native Sweden, performed with Fleet Foxes, rubbed shoulders with Connor Oberst and Jack White – Stay Gold is their third album in four years.
There is a 70s country slickness to much of Stay Gold. The core band on most songs, the sisters along with Benkt Söderberg on bass and Niclas Lindström on drums, is often augmented with an arm’s length list of string and guitar players. This never dilutes the songs or drowns them in syrup; instead they add a classic feel to tales of escape, looking over New York City, and road weariness. The galloping drums and quick wordplay of “My Silver Lining” gets the album moving right away and later on the harmonies shine through brightly on “Waitress Song”. The title track’s vulnerable chorus is a knockout – “What if our hard work ends in despair, what if the road won’t take me there, oh I wish for once we could stay gold”
While the tracks take on a more personal feel than past efforts, they contain a universality that are easily relatable. “Now I can’t believe that it’s been five years, since we both stood here looking out at this city, with minds so bold and thoughts so clear”. On their first release for Columbia Records, Johanna and Klara absolutely stay gold throughout.
The sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg released their second album, The Lion’s Roar, earlier in 2012. It hit number one in the Swedish album chart the week of release as well as #35 in the UK. Following up on single “Emmylou” the duo put out “Blue” as the third single from the newest album.
The track has an uncanny ability to sound both like it was originally a country song from the 1950’s yet sounds modern at the same time. The harmonies and cheery twinkling notes don’t give away the fact that the lyrics are so downcast:
“And the only man you ever loved
You thought was gonna marry you
Died in a car accident when he was only 22
Then you just decided, love wasn’t for you
And every year since then
Has proved it to be true”
Terrific stuff from those so young.