First Aid Kit – The Big Black and the Blue

Whilst First Aid Kit’s debut album title may reference Steve Abini’s Chicago noiseniks, the sound couldn’t be more different. The Söderberg sister’s focussing in the main on soft instrumentation and soaring vocal harmony, with no distortion, drum machines or buzz-saw guitars in evidence. The DIY ethic of the band does have something in common with Albini and co. The album was written, sung and played almost entirely, save for a few drums, by the sisters and produced by them and their father.

The sisters are perhaps best known for their YouTube promoted cover of the Fleet Foxes ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’. So, on their first full album the sisters begin the battle of proving that they are more than just a pair of interesting vocals and that they have the song writing skills to carry a full long playing set.

On first listen the album is a slight disappointment, especially after last years Drunken trees EP. There is a sense that the new songs and sounds are too similar to what has come before, but don’t push things forward enough. Subsequent listens dispel this as the depth and subtlety of the music become apparent. The first four songs on the album showcase the band’s strengths perfectly, the sparse instrumentation and soaring vocals of ‘In The Morning’, the single ‘Hard Believer’ the bouncy country of ‘Sailor Song’ and the purer folk sound of ‘Waltz For Richard’.

The album, taken on pure merit, is a strong one but in the context of the sisters age (both in their teens) it is an amazingly mature and accomplished work. The vocals will be the thing that most people will take away from the album, the girl’s vocals having a unique sound and being just the wrong side of on-key to make them interesting and memorable. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the strength of playing, command of melody and quality of lyric that are on show on the album.

The production is one area that can let the album down, not in terms of sound, but in terms of consistency. ‘Hard Believer’, one of the strongest songs on the album, sounds flat and a little muffled after the crystal clarity of ‘In the Morning’. This is a small criticism, however, as the simple production sounds close to perfect on most tracks, retaining the beauty and simplicity of the songs.

‘Ghost Town’ could be the album’s highlight and in the hands of a better known, less interesting, female artist, Norah Jones perhaps, would surely be a hit. Again, it is a remarkably mature offering from such a young and relatively inexperienced act.

The final third of the album does tail off a little, the quality of the songs remains good but there are some similarities to songs that have come before that mean that these tracks don’t stand out as strongly. The quality of singing and playing never falter though and a little revising of the album sequence could have solved this problem.

The album has much to admire and is one of the most promising debuts that I have heard in quite some time.


By Dorian Rogers, Mar 2010


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