Filed under: first listen, review | Tags: charlotte richardson andrews, first aid kit, the big black and the blue
Due out on January 25 through UK label Wichita Recordings, The Big Black & The Blue is the eagerly awaited debut album from teenage sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, who broke out of their native Sweden in style earlier this year with the spectacular Drunken Trees EP, recorded at home in 2008 when the girls were 15 and 18, respectively. Sellout shows all over Europe ensued in a series of gobsmackingly beautiful performances that cemented the Söderbergs’ brilliance and heart-fluttering simplicity. The success of the EP was partly down to its harmony-infused folk compositions never falling short of bewitching, but also because the sisters’ tender years were at such magical odds with the wise and world-weary narratives of their songs. Though at this point Klara and Johanna have now finished school, travelled far and wide, rubbed shoulders with the great and good of indie rock, and are facing the very real prospect of long-term survival in the music industry, we’re happy to report that The Big Black & The Blue, while perhaps less immediate, doesn’t blanch First Aid Kit of the charms that made them such a breath of clear, mountain air. A full review of the album will be published in January. For now, here’s our track-by-track preview:
‘In The Morning’
Striking and beautiful, as befits an opening number, ‘In The Morning’ is mostly a cappella with a spray of notes here and there that awake briefly into song only to fall back again, successfully turning the spotlight on the sisters’ impossibly beautiful harmonies.
The album’s first single, ‘Hard Believer’ is a wry, world-weary acoustic ballad graced with organ, piano and mandolin, that climaxes with a rousing, life affirming refrain that could well serve as the album’s motif: “It’s one life and it’s this life and it’s beautiful!”
The album’s first upbeat, toe-tapping number, ‘Sailor Song’ is ushered in with twinkling strokes of an autoharp or similar, quickly falling into steady, fast-paced strumming kept in rhythm with a sunny, infectious narrative filled with sprightly, seafaring adventure.
‘Waltz For Richard’
Already familiar to fans as the B-side to ‘Hard Believer’, this is a short and sweet acoustic ballad, cut with simplistic, romantic fingerpicking and emotive, nostalgic lyrics.
A deceptively jaunty song with a subtle cinematic quality about growing up and longing for a simpler existence. The seesawing, standoffish acoustic guitar hooks are given almost imperceptible depth with soothing flute notes, a feathery ray of hope gleaming above the clouds.
Soft, blue and mist-filled, this is a travel-weary, mid-album pause, opening with soft accordion waves and unravelling lost hopes, delicate attachments to the past and optimistic promises for the future. A scatter of piano notes planted around the chorus give it an old-time sentimentality, balanced nicely by the heartwarming rainfall patter of soft wooden xylophones towards the song’s end.
A perfectly crafted ode to friendship, ‘Josefin’ is filled with snow, sun, bare feet and adventure. A bright burst of charming secrets and sororal tenderness, it’s one of the album’s sweeter, lighter moments, full of rushing wind and rosy-cheeked excitement.
‘A Window Opens’
Rousing yet mournful, with an almost peasant-folk lilt flowing under the haunting top notes, ‘A Window Opens’ is propelled by a steady thrum of rattle shakes and muted tambourine pats. Keep an ear out for the whispered count-in at the beginning, it’s cute beyond words.
‘Winter Is All Over You’
Stingingly dark with painful evocations and almost macabre imagery (“I saw your mother at the department store / She looked innocent like a stillborn”), this is one of the album’s most immediate standouts. The dichotomy between their adolescent ages and immensely insightful lyrics is felt most here, making for a song that’s goosebump-beautiful.
‘I Met Up With A King’
An idiosyncratic fairytale with sweet poetry and impassioned declarations, the sisters’ vocals soaring and sinking before an eventually drawn out end chorus that turns their bird-chime vocals into raspy, almost-bellows.
‘Wills Of The River’
Sweet strummings set about with gentle, pastoral themes and Spring-kissed, breeze-blown narratives make this finale winsome, lulling and inviting, like a perfect watercolour dream weaved into song and brought to life. The lullaby ending, “The world is all alone now, while its children still sleep, silently”, brings the album full circle from its early morning beginnings with a soft and soporific neatness.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
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