First Aid Kit might just be the closest thing out there to alternate universe Louvin Sisters when the indie duo’s country-influenced material calls for sibling harmonies.
Bandmates and sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg hail from Stockholm, Sweden, not Sand Mountain, Alabama. Their father was a rock musician in Swedish band Lolita Pop, not a sharecropper. Yet just as New York city slicker Gillian Welch brings Appalachian music alive as if chickens pecked her bare feet through the kitchen floor boards, First Aid Kit romanticize folk traditions in such a way that, without blind trust of Wikipedia, might leave us all dreaming up their rural backstories.
New album Ruins furthers many of the elements that made the group’s two prior albums, 2012’s The Lion’s Roar and 2014’s Stay Gold, international successes. Folksy sentimentality, informed by growing up as fans of former collaborator Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes, defines the sisters’ shared vision on such new cuts as “My Wild Sweet Love” and “To Live a Life.” These types of songs likely paved an easy enough path to the international indie festival circuit, creating a slightly different kind of audience for their country material.
An even better use of the duo’s sibling harmonies and folk sensibilities explores a different childhood influence, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. “Emmylou,” a strong traditional country statement that predates the current Americana boom, became the high-water mark for countrified First Aid Kit songs back in 2012. Twangy, baroque pop composition “Rebel Soul,” trail ballad “Post Card,” and other examples of Ruins’ foreign-made Americana inch the sister’s wagon train awfully close to reclaiming “Emmylou” glory.
For whatever reason, First Aid Kit’s country songs recreate elements of the roots music authenticity once heard on radios across the South before the age of television, without the sisters forfeiting their spot in the forward-leaning world of indie rock. Perhaps passion means more than place, and talent is more vital than timeframe, when it comes to keeping folk traditions alive.
First Aid Kit