First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold is a compelling argument for indie artists to sign to a major label. Melancholic Swedes Johanna and Klara Soderberg have grasped the opportunities that such a move can provide firmly with both hands, drafting in a 13-piece orchestra for their third LP.
The album’s instrumentation is just beautiful. The sisters’ delicate arrangements ensure the array of sounds never approaches excess and the focus remains, as ever, on the dreamy, smoked-peat timbre of their intertwining voices.
Take the Bell, which opens with the earthy, mystical undertones of a pan flute. You can practically see the woodland creatures dancing in a meadow somewhere. Elsewhere, such as on the album’s title track, quietly powerful strings ground the songwriting in solemnity. Barely perceptible piano dances through Fleeting One, while Heaven Knows is injected with some Mumford-and-Sons-style banjo pep.
Considering the sisters specialise in folk with a country twang, it’s unsurprising that their lyrics are full of pastoral imagery. You’ll hear of setting suns, rugged lands and winter’s dawn. They daydream about joining the circus or working as a small-town waitress, reminisce about past loves and cross-country journeys.
Other lyrics are not so home-on-the-range wholesome. “My love is a fleeting one/My man could be anyone,” they sing on Fleeting One, even – surprisingly – venturing to scream “straight to hell!” at one point.
Slower songs like A Long Time Ago tug on the heartstrings, but they can also be a little too subdued. The album is best when it’s being propelled by playful, subtle rhythms and the sweet little licks of its various stringed instruments.
Lead single My Silver Lining is an obvious highlight in this department. It’s grand and purposeful, with sharp storytelling. Sophisticated composition aside, it’s storytelling that First Aid Kit – like all good folk singers – do best.