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Something Gold Can Stay

Judyta Frodyma

First Aid Kit
Stay Gold
Columbia Records
Release: 6th June 2014

Six years ago, when the Fleet Foxes were ruling the charts with their self-titled album, two Swedish sisters did a forest cover of their song and posted it to Youtube. This in itself was nothing extraordinary, everyone does covers: they wore flannels, and took their guitar into the woods behind their house, and sang. Yet, after over one million views, anyone watching their home video will pick up instantly on their natural talent, from their unusual voices to their distinct harmony to the ease with which they laugh at the echoes in the woods.

Now on their third album, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg continue to reign over the folk world with youthful effortlessness. At times they have been criticised for covering subject matter in their lyrics that far exceeds their years, such as the lines ‘I can see it now you’re married and your wife is with a child / And you’re all laughing in the garden and I’m lost somewhere in your mind’ coming from an 18-year-old. Yet their third album continues to circle around themes of pain and loss, of transience. Even their title, taken from a Robert Frost poem (‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’) indicates a nod towards both the fleeting world of nature and the hectic life of being on tour. Their inclination towards Americana—previous tracks included evoking Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, June Carter, and Johnny Cash—is even stronger in this album, an indication of their projected market.

This is their first record with a major label (Columbia), and it seems that the teenage dream of dropping out of high school (or skipping it altogether, in Klara’s case) to go on tour has actually worked out in their case. There is something familiar and personable about the sisters—their live performances as much as their album touch upon the dramatic stories of country music without as much twang. Like any artist that started really young, First Aid Kit faced the problem of creating their own distinct ‘sound’ at the risk of too much similarity between their songs and albums; however Stay Gold has successfully accomplished just that: it’s recognisably their own while also being new.

Stay Gold harmoniously rings of the same glum hope you find in artists like Tracy Chapman or Bruce Springsteen: ‘I’ve woken up in a hotel room, my worries as big as the moon / Having no idea who or what or where I am,’ they sing in ‘My Silver Lining’; ‘Coast after coast, cities and states / My world’s an empty map where nothing remains’ laments ‘Cedar Lane’. They even have a ‘Waitress Song’ about moving to Chicago to ‘figure things out’ after a breakup. If they seem heavy, it’s because they are, with a long-awaited maturity that their other albums, impressive as they were, somewhat lacked. Musically, the use of more instrumentation has given them a larger sound that comes with the fullness of an adult album.

There’s no doubt that life on the road is as hard as it is creative, and Stay Gold is yet another testimony to the sorts of efforts that composing in the back of a touring bus can yield. With the experience of the international circuit, as well as age (being 14 and being 21 are two very different stages) each sister has become skilled at conveying musical honesty all the while being, to quote from another of their songs, a ‘Master Pretender.’

Judyta Frodyma is reading for a DPhil in English Literature at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxonian Review.