Nostalgia has become a funny thing in this age of “the social network”. We have Throwback Thursdays, Flashback Fridays, and other movements accompanied by their #hashtags seem to be popping up weekly. What does it all mean? For every person in their mid to late 30’s (my age group) looking at the past through rose-colored lenses, the present slips away just a bit. Was everything really better 10 to 15 years ago? Or is it easier to believe that it was, given that we have overcome those struggles and face new ones in the present? I’m not really sure what the answer is, but it has been an ongoing thought process for me, watching daily nostalgia come over on my various social network feeds. First Aid Kit have entitled their 3rd record Stay Gold – after lines from the famous Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. Quite possibly, First Aid Kit also looked to the film The Outsiders as inspiration, as the scene with Ponyboy reciting Frost’s poem to The Karate Kid is something that has always stayed with me. Hues of Technicolor and gold.
When we last heard from First Aid Kit, they were building a worldwide audience based on their stunning single “Emmylou” and their 2nd record, The Lion’s Roar. The record was a stunning exploration of Outlaw Country music, as filtered through the world view of two sisters in their late teens and early 20’s. Johanna and Klara Söderberg offered up harmonies, grit, and lyrics that resonated – the record had it all. I wondered how the duo would follow it up, and a few months ago we were able to finally hear the 1st single My Silver Lining. A fuller sound, deeper harmonies, a slightly more European vibe – it’d be an understatement to say that I was excited for June to finally roll around. So how’s the full 10 track album stack up? Read on…
The 1st thing that I’ll tell you is that the entire record holds together very well, and mostly stays true to the theme explored by Robert Frost & Ponyboy. Moments of lightness are balanced by levity, and vice versa. In less skilled hands, the whole endeavor could have come off as insincere, or mere nostalgic longing. Fortunately, the Söderberg sisters are as skilled with words as they are with musical instruments. In their hands, Master Pretender can offer up a slightly lighter alt-country vibe, while still slowing everything down to deliver these chilling lines “I always thought that you’d be here / But shit gets fucked up / People just disappear”. Shattered & Hollow is an acoustic torch song that offers up these gems “But I’d rather be broken than empty / Oh, I’d rather be shattered than hollow”.
Three songs stand out to me as just a cut above the rest, and have been on constant repeat. That isn’t to slight the other 7 songs, but I feel like these 3 are a perfect summation of what First Aid Kit do well on this record. My Silver Lining opens with tribal drumming, mysterious strings and lyrics that appear to just about anyone who has a pulse. There is no past, only the road ahead of us. Instead of quoting the entire song (which I am tempted to do), I’ll just give you these gems “There’s no starting over, no new beginnings, time races on / And you’ve just gotta keep on keeping on / Gotta keep on going, looking straight out on the road / I won’t take the easy road / The easy road, the easy road / Show me my silver lining, I try to keep on keeping on”. Stay Gold opens with a Hymn like wordless harmony before Klara enters the mix with her affecting world-weary lead vocals. This song shows the Robert Frost influence the most, but it is not a mere recitation of the poem. The harmonies on the chorus will send chills up your spine, and every verse offers up the wisdom and questioning of a philosopher. “Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold / We could stay gold / But there is only forward, no other way / Tomorrow was your hope at the end of the day / And gold turns gray”. A Long Time Ago is a piano based lament, and is the perfect ending to the record. The feeling of letting someone down, just for being yourself – such a heavy feeling. Harmony vocals help the words make such an emotional impact – “I could’ve been / So many things / But it would never be enough for you”. Orchestration builds as the track goes on, until the listener is immersed in a full Technicolor production of despair. Haunting.
If you can’t tell – I love this record. Absolutely worth buying if you haven’t already.
Verdict: Nothing Gold Can Stay
For Fans of: The Essex Green, Carter Family, Lambchop, Kings of Convenience, Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash
- My Silver Lining
- Master Pretender
- Stay Gold
- Cedar Lane
- Shattered & Hollow
- The Bell
- Waitress Song
- Fleeting One
- Heaven Knows
- A Long Time Ago