Album Review: First Aid Kit – The Big Black & The Blue

by Katherine


(Published at Earhorn.co.uk)

Kids get a bad rap these days. We’re not all pill-popping, good-for-nothing Skins extras, with loose lifestyles and even looser morals. Some of us are pretty sensible, really – and opposing this dubious repute are Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna (respectively 16 and 19) – who are currently purveying some of the most gloriously earthy folk around. The pair broke onto the folk scene with rare confidence after their arresting cover of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ became a YouTube hit– and the subsequent EP was equally as lauded, with critics universally stunned into an enthralled, disparagement-free silence by the sisters’s folk-canvassed, Conor Oberst reminiscent intimacy – a rare occasion indeed.

However, ‘The Big Black & The Blue’ heralds the sister’s steadily-growing maturity – ‘I wish I could believe in something bigger, more than these trees, these winds, these oceans’ Klara sighs on ‘Heavy Storm’, and indeed ‘The Big Black & The Blue’ seems to be a kind of departure for the sisters – gone are the ‘Drunken Trees’ era gently pastoral ruminations on magic forests and tangerines; ‘The Big Black & The Blue’ chooses to focus on – what else?- love.

The sister’s increasing development is even reflected in their cover art – while ‘Drunken Trees’ depicts a menagerie of zoo animals enjoying a train ride, as apparently illustrated by a particularly overzealous toddler and a paint set – but the cover of ‘The Big Black & The Blue’ is adorned by a gloomy cherub, wielding a lute and gazing moodily into the middle distance, while a full moon looms eerily behind her, suspended in the grey sky.

However, ‘The Big Black & The Blue’ is much more than a blessed hour-long sulk – it’s a gently cathartic affair, as though the girls are coming around, bleary-eyed, from that torturous, post-failed relationship twilight zone, where the fog is just beginning to disperse, and you can finally begin to regain some sense of clarity. Indeed, the sister’s incessant quest for closure makes them seem more than slightly like the female, adolescent version of High Fidelity’s Rob Gordon, minus his trademark, emotionally-crippling acrimony – ‘Heavy Storm’ sees the sisters stumbling precariously over the rubbles of a disintegrated relationship – ‘I wish that I could have known back then/ What we all know now/ That we’re never going back to those times’.

However, the First Aid Kit sisters aren’t as frighteningly precocious as they may appear on first listen – the sumptuous, auto-harp laden ‘Sailor Song’– bar the oblique nautical references – depicts a situation every teenager throughout the course history has gone through at some point in their lives: see if Klara’s cries of ‘I’ll wait for you in the harbour/ Oh little silly me!/ The sailors set sail in the morning/ I’ll be waiting for you all night/ The ship sets up in the morning/ I’ll be waiting for you all right…’ doesn’t conjure up images of your own lovelorn adolescence, waiting by your iphone/telephone/fax machine/carrier pigeon (delete as age-appropriate) for the object of your desires to pay some kind of heed to you – however, there’s a healthy dose of cynicism shot into the sisters naïve romanticism – Klara’s mournful yowl in ‘Sailor Song’ seems to elongate into a derisive chuckle at her own lovesick naivety, and it’s impossible not to visualise Klara’s knowing smirk in ‘I Met Up With A King’, as her male protagonist spins such time-honoured chestnuts as ‘Don’t think less of me, I’m still the same man I used to be’.

However, this certainly wouldn’t be a First Aid Kit review without mentioning the sister’s voices – Johanna and Klara are in possession of voices of not only jaw-dropping strength and clarity, but of glorious, endlessly refracting symmetry that only similarly talented siblings (Note TALENTED, Jedward) can possibly dream of achieving. Klara’s voice in particular bears remarkable similarity to fellow youthful folkstress Laura Marling’s – peel back it’s exterior, accented wanness and Klara’s voice holds an incredible range of depths and breadths – however, the sum of the sister’s voices is certainly greater than their parts – their flawlessly proportioned harmonies are best displayed on the austere ‘In The Morning’, where the sister’s ornate instrumentation is stripped back, allowing the sisters voices to more than make up for it in sinuous, gracefully undulating harmonies – each of Klara’s full-throated, expansive mewls is perfectly refracted by Johanna’s sonorous, soothing murmurs.

Overall, the First Aid Kit’s debut album is a prime exercise in never judging a book by it’s cover – allow yourself to be submerged into First Aid Kit’s lush world of sailing ships, selfless kings and boys playing guitars under the stars, and the binge-drinking, drugged-up teens of today will become but a distant, unpleasant memory.

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