First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar (Wichita)
January 22, 2012 by Jonny Chadwick
First Aid Kit’s formula is a simple one: a minimalistic approach to everything but the vocals. The instrumentation, although more expansive than on their debut, is simplistic. The lyrics portray very few idiosyncrasies or strong messages. Playing to your strengths is usually a good plan for any musician, working to eclipse the weak points in their music. However on The Lion’s Roar the impression is more of a lack of effort than ability in all areas other than the vocals of Johanna and Klara Söderberg.
The Swedish sisters do have incredibly beautiful voices and the chemistry between them is evident in the songs, although the lack of other inspiring elements dampens rather than accentuates the effect. Firstly, as devastatingly perfect as their singing is, the narrative they are conveying on the album is seriously mediocre. It is not that there are any particularly terrible or cringe-worthy lines, more just a sense of them passing the listener by. There is so much adherence to folk cliché that it at times it borders on plagiarism, for instance ‘and the ways of the old, old winds blowing you back ’round’. For Swedish folk artists doing natural imagery well, see The Tallest Man on Earth. When they do get more personal and specific, the results, although not emphatic, are better. On ‘Blue’ the siblings tell of a depressed protagonist whose lover ‘died in a car crash when he was only 22′. Incidentally this is also the most interesting song musically, as the feather light, upbeat melody clashes erringly with the sinister lyrics to give some respite from the other songs that act simply as devices to showcase the Söderbergs’ vocal talents.
Simplicity in itself is certainly not a negative feature of (especially folk) music. However the songs on The Lion’s Roar are so devoid of individuality or anything of intrigue that the album is simply a poor dedication to the poetry of their obvious influences. The music simply does not evoke any sort of a reaction, except ‘those girls can really sing’. It works perfectly as background music, but any artist that is happy with their work being at its best when talked over should quit now. Everything that supports the sisters’ singing is so vague and generic it is difficult not to get bored halfway through.
There are plenty of artists who have made fine records using strong female vocals as their focal point without neglecting the other elements of the music. For sheer beauty and poetry, Paris Motel’s ‘Catherine by the Sea’ is a great example, while for interesting and innovative pop music there is no finer example than Stricken City’s ‘Animal Festival’. Meanwhile, perhaps the best comparison to make, fellow Swedish group Club 8′s ‘Football Kids’ is a track built on simplicity around a stunning female voice. The subtle instrumentation and evocative lyrics work together perfectly to make a stirring piece of minimalist pop. All these are much more rewarding listens than The Lion’s Roar. First Aid Kit have incredible voices, but this is not enough to save an album where everything else is so forgettable.