First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Everything I know about Sweden can be distilled into the following:

  1. IKEA
  2. Swedish Fish (usually purchased at IKEA)
  3. Lingonberry Jam (purchased at IKEA)
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  5. Pärson Sound  – International Harvester – Harvester – Träd, Gräs och Stenar (same band basically in different incarnations) are my favorite psychedelic band and they are from Sweden
  6. The Jens Lekman song “The Cold Swedish Winter” with its lyrics “When people think of Sweden / like Cliff Richards who thought it was just / porn and gonorrhea / And Lou Reed said in the film / Blue in the Face / that compared to New York City / Sweden is a scary place

A fact about Sweden that I didn’t realize until very recently was that some of the best country-ish music being made is found in Sweden. I’m no fan of mainstream country music. The sickly sweet melodies with dumbed down lyrics about faux patriotism really makes me want to find Jack White to ask how he endures living near where it is all made.  (Full disclosure: I love “I Hate Everything” by George Strait and “The Thunder Rolls” by Garth Brooks. Forgive me, for I have sinned)

The story behind Sweden’s own First Aid Kit is that they were inspired to write country music after a trip to the United States. People on the coasts tend to think of themselves (Americans) as ultra hip, sleek, Euro style citizens who listen to cutting edge techno and the latest UK export guitar band. The reality is that our friends in Europe think of us as Wal-Mart shopping, pick-up truck driving, country music listening, simple folks. The truth lies somewhere in between. Fortunately, First Aid Kit have taken the essence of country music and distilled it into something very unique and heartwarming – inspired by what is loosely known as  “Outlaw Country Music”  (Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, etc…)

Single “Emmylou” is THE highlight of the album. The song begins with some simple strumming of the guitar with really warm violins (bringing to mind another favorite, Honeychurch). When the vocals kick in, it is like stepping into Doc Brown’s time machine – set for the year 1970. The singers give the feeling of hanging out in Southern California, strumming guitars with friends, enjoying life. The chorus will make you smile at your boyfriend or husband – girlfriend or wife – “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June / And you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too / No, I’m not asking much of you / Just sing little darling / sing with me”

“The Lions Roar” works very effectively as the album opener. Mid tempo folksy music with more than a hint of twang present in sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg’s  voices. With just shy of 2 minutes left to the song, the music fades away to highlight the vocals and lyrics. “And I’m a goddamn fool / But then again so are you / And the lion’s roar, the lion’s roar / Has me seeking out and searching for you / And I never really knew what to do”

“I Found A Way” starts with haunting vocals as the singers chant “By midnight time I could not see / If I were you or you were me” and builds into a gentle folk-country lament.

“King of the World” ends the album on a hopeful tone, again in that beautiful outlaw country-style. This song features stunning harmony vocals with its vibe recalling a classic Gram Parsons song. Guest vocals by Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes lends to the atmosphere. Whilst Conor has sometimes been judged too harshly for worshipping at the altar of Gram Parsons in recent years, here he solidifies his authenticity. A perfect ending to a perfect album.

I’ve pointed out a few highlights, but really – this album deserves to be listened to in full in one sitting. Purchase it, make a pot of coffee, put the tunes on and sit by the fire with your loved ones. First Aid Kit implores you to.

Verdict: Eating Lingonberry jam never tasted so so good

For Fans of: Emmylou HarrisJohnny CashJune Carter-CashGram ParsonsHoneychurch, Mojave 3, Sixth Great Lake, Guppyboy, The Essex Green

Track listing

All tracks written by Klara and Johanna Söderberg, except where noted.

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. The Lion’s Roar 5:07
2. “Emmylou” 4:18
3. “In the Hearts of Men” 4:14
4. “Blue” 3:12
5. “This Old Routine” Söderberg/Söderberg/Joe Andert 4:24
6. “To a Poet” 5:44
7. “I Found a Way” 4:13
8. “Dance to Another Tune” 4:51
9. “New Year’s Eve” 3:07
10. “King of the World” Söderberg/Söderberg/Conor Oberst 3:39
iTunes bonus track
No. Title Length
11. “Wolf” 3:40

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