First Aid Kit – ‘Palomino’ review: folk rockers finally run free

The Swedish duo remain a consistently charming listen and on album five, they appear sonically liberated

“We’ve grown up,” says Klara Söderberg, the younger sister of the Swedish duo First Aid Kit, in the accompanying material about their fifth album ‘Palomino’. “As we get older, the music is more about having fun and being positive… like a palomino riding through the desert”. Subtle this ain’t.

Nearly 15 years on since Klara and Johanna’s cover of a Fleet Foxes song piqued interest in the folk pair, the sisters have returned with their most rounded-out album yet. Unlike 2018’s break-up album ‘Ruins’, ‘Palomino’ is wisened to ups and downs of love and not so bogged down by it sonically; there’s more of a full-band feel thanks to the Söderbergs co-writing with others for the first time. Strings and brass appear more frequently than on previous records, and there are welcome escapades into glam rock. It’s a freshness needed to enliven the Americana lulls of their more recent releases.

‘Palomino’ is an apt title for the duo’s freer, more mature album. Horses of the palomino breed aren’t usually born with their famed golden coats, rather the hue develops with age. On ‘Wild Horses II’ the sisters detail a couple breaking up on a road trip – minus the expected desperation for either party to save it. “I thought I couldn’t change / So I didn’t even try,” they sing atop hushed, open-tuned guitars. Organ burrs, brass glares and drums that break into a tumble infer a catharsis that’s never reached. There’s no resolution, just a matter-of-fact acceptance that life moves on.

‘Angel’ hears the Söderbergs channel Fleetwood Mac with a lurch to poppy folk-rock in a meditation on self-acceptance. “I love you, oh can’t you see you’re free?” is the pep-talk-in-the-mirror we probably all need to use more. Frilly mandolin arpeggios and rollicking beats buoy the story, with the sisters opting to drop their glorious trademark harmonies at the chorus’ opening for a punchier vocal delivery in unison. It makes for an anthemic, joyous listen.

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Quieter numbers such as the slinking noir of ‘Nobody Knows’ and the sleepy ‘29 Palms Highway’ could have been left off ‘Palomino’, an album that excels when a grander widescreen characteristics are employed. ‘A Feeling That Never Came’ jolts with T. Rex-style electric guitars, disco strings and driving rhythms that suit the open road the pair so often metaphorise. The song explores the numbness after a failed relationship, though the fall-out is rationalised: “I loved you… but I’ve put that all to rest.”

‘Palomino’ flits between the certainties and uncertainties of love with ease, strengthened by deeper musical experimentation that won’t alienate longtime fans. Another gem in First Aid Kit’s consistently good arsenal of timeless, harmony-rich roots music.

Details

  • Release date: November 4, 2022
  • Record label: Columbia Records
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