Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara SÃ¶derberg might originate from Sweden, but their sound reaches over to an American pastoral sound, populated by the hazy yet strident sounds of Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Beach Boys, flecked with the modern and magical re-imaginings of that world by bands like Fleet Foxes (they actually covered “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and subsequently did a live performance with the band).
The Lion’s Roar, the sisters’ second record as First Aid Kit (after 2010’s The Big Black & Blue), benefits from a maturing in both vocals and composition. Their vocals have always been decisively beautiful and stirring, but their first record sometimes suffered under the weight of their reference to what had come before. While The Lion’s Roar remains situated high up in the Appalachian mountains (“Emmylou”) as well as down by the California coastline (“New Year’s Eve”), it weaves a pleasingly expanded set of instruments and styles, all under the watchful eye of producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, M. Ward).
The title track is moody – the SÃ¶derberg sisters’ version of kicking the door after leaving an argument at the family dinner table – and it’s quite a sparing song that eventually becomes a sparring one, with the addition of flute, heavier guitars, and vocals that soar like bleeding starlings. “Blue” is a jaunty glockenspiel-led song that Belle & Sebastian would be proud of, echoing them as it does with a light, frothy melody that folds around a tragic story of a girl who loses the love of her life in a car accident: “Then you just decided love wasn’t for you/and every year since then has proved it to be true”.
This sense of tragedy and melancholy (handed down to them by their nineteenth century namesake, the great Hjalmar SÃ¶derberg) infuses weary, sad tracks like “This Old Routine” with a slide guitar that sounds like someone crying. Similar is most of “Dance to Another Tune” (“Everything gets tiresome, everything grows old”), with drums that signify defeat until the last minute, where everything takes off into that mysterious, creative place where hope and magic coalesce over furious, scatting violins, messy percussion, and jumpy vocals before the storm breaks for calm. This burst of inspiration brings to mind the best of Midlake or Fleet Foxes, who combine an aptitude for multi-instrumentalism and heavy emotional landscapes, delivering them with a lightness of touch, just as the sisters do on the journeying “To a Poet” or the harmonic, old-fashioned “I Found a Way”.
The last song, “King of the World”, brings us back to Sweden, with a jamboree of a song that JÃ¶nkÃ¶ping’s I’m From Barcelona might have come up with, in that it brings together several instruments and people– the sound of happiness, which comprises trumpets, handclaps, and…Conor Oberst, who is clearly having the time of his life– recalling The B52’s. It’s different– just like the sisters SÃ¶derberg.
Essential Tracks: “The Lion’s Roar”, “Blue”, “King of the World”
Feature artwork by Drew Litowitz.