Albums of 2014 #16 - First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

First Aid Kit
Stay Gold
Columbia. Released June 6th.

First Aid Kit have become the darlings of just about everyone who has crossed their paths over the years (Fleet Foxes, Jack White, Conor Oberst to name but three) and the Söderberg sisters progression is quite startling for someone who was there quite near the start (Glastonbury 2010 Greenpeace stage to an audience of about 50). On their third (and best to date) full length record Stay Gold the duo have perfected a glittering, polished sound that comes across as completely effortless.

"My Silver Lining" is as optimistic a moment as we've heard from the duo and shines amongst a flourishing orchestra and bright, bold arrangements. The cinematic, made-for-the road track is as big and romantic a moment as we've heard from the sisters but it's still Klara's delicious lead vocals and incandescent harmonies which I'm drooling over. Likewise, fellow single Cedar Lane" is  just the sort of thing we've become accustomed to from the duo, a rich, sumptuous beauty with slide guitar melody, entwined harmonies and a crystal clear melody.

"Stay Gold" is breath of fresh air, toe-tapping melody and soaring vocals full of abundant charm and talent whilst "Shattered & Hollow" is an exquisite torchlight ballad that starts melancholic before growing the the shared uplifting chorus of “We are gonna get out of here”.

If album four continues First Aid Kit's ability to improve with each album (the pair are still in their early 20's), well, then the world could be theirs...

First Aid Kit #10 - America

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I'm not at all sure what the deal is with what looks like another Record Store Day in the US on Friday, November 28th - the same day 'Black Friday'. A commercial gimmick most likely to generate some more revenue for Beatles re-re-re-re-re-issues and 'special edition', 'anniversary edition' vinyls at vastly inflated prices. At least though, there are the odd couple of gems to be found. St Vincent has a 10" single with two unheard tracks from the St Vincent sessions and this, First Aid Kit tackling Simon & Garfunkel's  "America". The release also consists of unheard track "Brother" and two alternative versions of tracks from this years wonderful Stay Gold LP.

The sister's voices lend themselves perfectly to "Ameriac" (something I have no doubt said before, their honey toned voices seem to match everything they touch) as their effortless and immaculate harmonies sooth and stir throughout typically haunting, confident instrumentation. Such resonant voices and wistful melodies, "America" never sounded so good. 

First Aid Kit #9 - Love Interruption (Cover)

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If there was room within me to love First Aid Kit more, it certainly went a notch on Sunday night when I caught the sister's at The Roundhouse as part of the iTunes Festival. A faultless set of polished country tunes and perfect harmonies was delivered with beguiling ease and charm, something that UK audiences got a taster of themselves when the band appeared on Jools Holland last night, performing the wonderful "My Silver Lining" from their recent LP Stay Gold, with melodies nearly as shimmering as their outfits, a new wave of fans are sure to be heading their way.

The reason for this post though is to talk about a cover of Jack White's "Love Interruption", a song I am not familiar with at all and got my first taster of on Sunday when they played a energetic, all-out rocking version with enthusiasm abound and hair-flicking aplenty. Something you can see for yourself on the slightly more pared-down version for Like A Version below. I love both sister's voices, Klara has a gold standard of country vocals and Johanna's slight huskier tones makes me swoon every time it's allowed to flourish, here they melt my heart amongst stirring acoustic guitar and pitter-patter percussion. The result is incredible.

You lucky, lucky people seeing First Aid Kit at Royal Albert Hall tonight.


The Best Tracks of 2014 So Far (Part One)...

It's the mid-point of the year so I thought what better time for me to join in with the endless 'best tracks of the year so far' type posts... As you're reading this I'm probably just about getting home from Glastonbury but in no fit state to blog, so this post is a pre-write... I won't waffle too much, just copy my initial comments on tracks and add clips / link so you can listen to my twenty one favourite tracks of 2014 so far (it was twenty but I remember one I missed!). Eleven below in this post with ten more following in part two in precisely one minutes time. As ever with a list, it's ever-changing and I've probably forgot a couple of tracks too!

Before pedantic comments come out, a couple of these could technically be 2013 tracks but they are new to me in 2014, that's all that matters...

21. Tennis - Never Work For Free

...a slice of infectious, 80's leaning pure candy-pop propelled by a repeating drum beat, breezy guitars and shiny synth lines, it gives Alaina Moore's the freedom to soar with her timeless sounding vocal. The result is instant love and smiles.



20. Marissa Nadler - Dead City Emily

...sitting in the same realms of dark melancholy "Dead City Emily" is equally rewarding, with a pretty guitar melody creating a serenely beautiful mood around a soft soothing vocal, it's the sort of thing dreams are made of, comforting you like a warming blanket on a chilly, cold night. 



19. Ottilia - Siren

"Siren" is as minimal as they come, much likes last years "and then he said" demo and causes goosebumps with little more than Ottilia's woozy, lovelorn voice, the repeated, haunted vocal of "Don't go home with me, I'm a siren" and the lullaby echoes of an acoustic guitar, it's all that is needed to be carried away by this intoxicating, emotive beauty.



18. Abbey Bowden - Dust

"Dust", recorded live for Basement Sessions, sees Abbey sitting in a dimly lit room with pictures of singers hanging on the walls alone with her guitar. What comes to pass over the next four minutes is as cathartic experience as music can bring, a real send shivers down your spine moment as Abbey's soulful, emotive vocal purrs over delicate finger-plucked acoustic, utterly, utterly transfixing.




17. Layla - Black Mud

"Black Mud" aims to hit at your emotions, that much becomes clear after mere seconds as piano twinkles are joined by a string orchestra and Layla's soulful voice, they ebb and flow in perfect harmony with the instrumentation, one moment delicate, tender and pure, the next strong, passionate flourishes. The result leaves me swooning all over.



16. Ice Cream Cathedral - The Swans

A bizarre yet incredible single "The Swans" Immediately takes the trios self-defined genre of 'space pop' to the next level with a video that sees the band on an intergalactic journey across the universe propelled by subterranean beats and dreamy, Blade Runner esque atmosphere. It's not just Anja T. Lahrmann's breathy, soothing vocals that draws instant comparison with Annie Clark's but the magical sonic palette that "The Swans" follows, deliciously offbeat, eccentric and unpredictable, woozy synths are complemented by soaring guitars and all manner of 'space' effects and then at the four minute mark the bizarre turns into the unfathomable when the video sees the trio arrive on a barren looking planet inhabited by gigantic dogs (really) as the track morphs into an elongated instrumental ending of stark instrumentation and galloping beats. Quite the introduction!



15. Alexandra Stewart - I Grow

The skeletal beauty "I Grow" is led by melancholic piano and understated instrumentation which beguiles around a soft, dreamy atmosphere and Alex's soft, luscious vocal. The sort of voice that carries your mind away and here I'm left with my eyes closed and transported to somewhere as beautiful as the artwork that comes supplied on the soundcloud link. After three and a half minutes the track surprises, morphing from plaintive piano-ballad to something akin to a slow-motion Dirty Projectors at their finest, with ambient guitar shimmers and pared-down drums closing the track with the repeated whispers of the title. Absolutely gorgeous is this and that will do just fine for me today.



14. Eliot Sumner - Information

A surging drum march drives the synth-and-strings track forward with gorgeous shimmering guitars dueling with korg keys, it's Toy-esque both in terms of its dense, extended Motorik rhythms and progressive, glistening melody. "Information" keeps on giving throughout its seven minute duration, Eliot's soaring, impassioned vocal is just the icing on the cake.



13. Aldous Harding - Hunter

"Hunter" is taken from Aldous' self-titled debut album and now comes backed with a rather fittingly chilly, brooding video. The track is the sumptuous feast of rich musical landscape and fragile, haunting vocals from the get-go, Aldous blends a style not dissimilar from Joanna Newsom with touches of Joni Mitchell, with subtle, weaving melody and intriguing lyrics full of lovely imagery and extraordinary beauty carrying off to places warm and brilliant. It's just a shame you have to get on with your real life after. Here's a talent that can't stay hidden for long.



12. Hunt - Reset My Bones

Entwined around the poem "Jellyfish" by Andrea Gibson the track is heady mix of melody, emotion and beauty. It begins with a slow, longing introduction, built around a fuzzy bass line, metronomic drums and shimmering guitars before climaxing with a luscious crescendo of post rock noise and atmosphere and gorgeous, hazy vocal harmonies, light and dark merge effortlessly and my heart is instantly melted. Those drums at the end too...



11. First Aid Kit - Cedar Lane

Cedar Lane" is a rich, sumptuous beauty with slide guitar melody and heart melting vocals, just the sort of thing we've become accustomed to from the duo.

First Aid Kit #8 - Cedar Lane (Live)

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I've posted about this track before and this act even more but my love for First Aid Kit grew even more strong with a sparkling, rocking, beautiful performance at Islington's Assembly Hall a couple of weeks ago, a far cry from the first time I saw the Söderberg sisters perform in front of 40-60 people at Glastonbury's Greenpeace stage in 2010. Their progression is startling, their live show is near perfect, sounding completely effortless and never bigger or more polished than on the tracks from their third full length Stay Gold (due June 9th and available to order on Gold vinyl now).

This version of "Cedar Lane" is labelled as a live "acoustic" version (and I think I spot their Dad on guitar) yet it sums up that maturity. A full, rich melody that is an absolute joy to listen to. I've repeated this track a half dozen times already and I'm still smiling - I absolutely love the change between their voices, Klara's beautiful lead and the way Johanna's voice complements it, slightly huskier, her voice makes me swoon everytime it kicks in and those harmonies at the songs climax. Wow. I can't wait to see them again (September at the Royal Albert Hall!!!).

First Aid Kit #7 - Cedar Lane

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I'm in Brighton now; there's a very small chance that I'll update the blog whilst I have breakfast in the morning before heading out but this is likely the last post until I return from The Great Escape next week.

I'll be on a come-down then no doubt after three days of exceptional music (of that there is no doubt). I'll review my three days itinerary on my return but thankfully I have something else to keep me excited next week... A live date with First Aid Kit at Islington's Assembly Halls.

To make the idea sound just that little more sweet the Söderberg sisters have shared another new track from their forthcoming third album Stay Gold (due June 10th - available to pre-order on gold vinyl now). "Cedar Lane" is a rich, sumptuous beauty with slide guitar melody and heart melting vocals, just the sort of thing we've become accustomed to from the duo.

First Aid Kit #6 - My Silver Lining

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It's April 1st already (no fool's joke here) and the great news is First Aid Kit are back, "My Silver Lining" is the first track taken from their forthcoming third album Stay Gold (due June 10th, just in time for a Glasto slot eh?!).

For those of you who have seen the Söderberg sisters live, you'll know there is no escaping their uplifting charm and they've transferred that to their music here, "My Silver Lining" is as optimistic a moment as we've heard from the duo and shines amongst a flourishing orchestra and bright, bold arrangements. The cinematic, made for the road track is as big and romantic a moment as we've heard from the sisters but it's still Klara's delicious lead vocals and incandescent harmonies which I'm drooling over after half a dozen plays already. Welcome back girls, it's been too long (yeah, only about a eighteen months I know).

Early birds can pre-order Stay Gold now in sparkling gold vinyl with the option for a signed print too - direct from the First Aid Kit store.

First Aid Kit #5 - On The Road Again

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Another song I should have picked up on before Christmas (I might be saying that a lot this week so forgive me) but was on full festive wind-down when this track popped up in my soundcloud feed, a cover of Willie Nelson's "On The Road Again" by the wonderful First Aid Kit.

Johanna & Klara Söderberg stay faithful to the country classic with Klara leading the vocal duties, entwining around her sister's backing harmonies and a crystal clear melody that bristles with the originals toe-tapping excitement and optimism that hints at extremely good news for 2014.

I doubt I'm the only one who cannot wait to have First Aid Kit back on the road again soon...