wears the trousers magazine


first aid kit: the big black & the blue (2010)
January 28, 2010, 1:53 pm
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

First Aid Kit
The Big Black & The Blue ••••
Wichita

The theory that there must something in the Baltic air that imbues Swedish teenagers with maturity and wisdom beyond their years might seem like a fanciful piece of romantic stereotyping…until you take a listen to The Big Black & The Blue. Whether they’re oddly unique or an example of some larger national characteristic, there’s no doubt that First Aid Kit’s Klara and Johanna Söderberg, aged 16 and 19 respectively, write songs which suggest a much older provenance. The richness, and obvious genetic similarities, of the sisters’ vocals is laid bare right from the start with ‘In The Morning’, a beautifully wrought a cappella that has borne lazy comparisons with Fleet Foxes. That First Aid Kit became a YouTube sensation with their cover of ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ perhaps doesn’t help matters, but it is far from the full picture. Inhabiting a similarly quasi-mystical, part-bucolic, stripped-back lyrical landscape of open pastures, the song paints pictures of wedding bands being thrown into the grey deep. The lost arcadia of a marriage on the verge is perhaps not what you’d expect from two sisters with a combined age of thirty-five, but they somehow make it sound convincing.

If the dreamy jolt of the opener leads you to believe that you’re about to slip into a Whitman-esque nature hymnal territory, think again. ‘Hard Believer’ is about as defiant as the Söderbergs get, and in this case it’s a question of disbelief. This is the only life we get and it’s beautiful, they sing, to a melody that sounds oddly, and perhaps unintentionally, Smithsian. Despite the certainty of their youth, none of it sounds mannered. That said, the mid-Atlantic affectations of their vocals come right to the fore on ‘Ghost Towns’, which has a jaded, late-night Americana feel, a song of slow-plucked smalltown frustrations and lost love as piano and accordion combine with tales of railroad tracks. The mundane, middle-America setting and phrasing could be considered pastiche if the song wasn’t as convincing, the sisters sounding at their most mature. They pull it off, just, but there’s a lingering feeling that maybe a little less homage to their influences and more of their own voice might serve to make them more interesting.

The same observation could be applied to much of what follows. The tender, naïve ’60s folk of ‘Waltz For Richard’, a sweet charm-filled number in three/three time, is in a similar vein. Boats; the coastline; impressionistic characters built on memories of mood. The waves roll in, tides gets turned, and the song’s compelling gentleness soothes you into unexpected places. Also in a waltz time, ‘A Window Opens’ seems oddly flawless, the lack of rough edges detracting from the overall impression. Less so is ‘I Met Up With A King’, a song touched by fairytale lyricism, full of dreamy flute-led characters and a soaring refrain that lifts your spirit, the vocals turning surprisingly earthy with a not unwelcome touch of a yodel. This is down-home Kentucky roots meets Swedish folk somewhere in the middle of the globalised imagination, to utterly charming effect.

Among the other highlights are ‘Sailor Song’, which, despite its title, is more yee-haa than your average sea shanty, jaunting along with foot-stomping acoustics and the occasional pause for an intake of breath from the listener and vocal acrobatics from the sisters, and the gentle sunlit arcadian folk of ’Wills Of The River’, which whisks and wisps the album along to a melodic conclusion with its intimations of a hopeful spring lived under the canopy of a vast universe. First Aid Kit might not believe in anything bigger than the evolved world around them, but their lyrics are sometimes full of magical wonder. And it’s these moments of wide-eyed, naïve pleasure that ultimately sound more convincing than their attempts at world-weary resignation. Nevertheless, The Big Black & The Blue feels beautifully heartfelt throughout. The vocals may sometimes be over-harmonised, allowed to explode into life when a little restraint might serve the material better, and their influences too easy to spot, but there are enough sparks of originality here to suggest the Söderberg sisters might eventually surpass those whose work they currently draw upon. A sparkling, complete and accomplished debut.

Martyn Clayton
UK release date: 25/01/10; www.myspace.com/thisisfirstaidkit

Advertisements

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: