First Aid Kit – ‘The Lion’s Roar’

The best Americana record of the year

Who’d have thought the best Americana record of the year would come from two Swedish siblings? The answer being, of course, anyone who has heard [a]First Aid Kit[/a]’s debut album. Recorded with Mike Mogis, producer for [a]Bright Eyes[/a] and Jenny Lewis, ‘The Lion’s Roar’ is the sound of a duo growing up and out. And it’s pretty perfect.

The title track opens the album on a note of wintry regret – but, if anyone was in doubt as to the direction of the record, ‘Emmylou’ lays down the law. “I’ll be your Emmylou, and your June”, croon sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, “if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too”. The folktales and characters of their debut are here replaced by first-person narratives, with the duo unafraid to show their bones.

First Aid Kit have an innate talent for condensing a fear into a crushing couplet, using plain language to convey emotions far from simple. On the plaintive ‘New Year’s Eve’, Klara’s voice cries above a bare zither line: “Sometimes when it might be hard to get up/It might be you that I call upon”. The sparse ‘To A Poet’ comes as a shock after the production-dense openers. Beginning on an a cappella section, the track breaks into devastating drum beat and rhythmic acoustic guitar chords, while ‘Wolf’ harks back to their duo’s former Appalachian bent, with a Rawhide-style “heya heya” chorus. Closing track ‘King Of The World’ clocks in a guest appearance from the duo’s icon, Bright Eyes. Filled with mariachi trumpets and signature happy-sad lyrics (“One day I’d wake up all alone/With a big family and emptiness deep in my bones”) it’s a joyous and fitting valediction.

Condensed to a soundbite, ‘The Lion’s Roar’ is ‘Nashville Skyline’ by way of the Stockholm suburbs. But there’s no point geotagging this. These two would be spectacular wherever they came from.

Ailbhe Malone