The Swedish sisters’ ability to tug on the heartstrings is still very much in evidence on their first record since their debut to be recorded back in their native Stockholm
It’s now nearly 15 years since two Swedish teenage sisters calling themselves First Aid Kit covered the Fleet Foxes song Tiger Mountain Peasant Song, uploaded it to YouTube, and quickly found themselves propelled to international stardom. Now in their 30s, Johanna and Klara Söderberg’s sound has inevitably matured somewhat since those early days, and their fifth album demonstrates the extent of their evolution.
Palomino is their first record since their debut to be recorded back in their native Stockholm – it’s still a very recognisable First Aid Kit record, but the influences this time around is the classic rock of the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty. Fans of the duo’s early material may miss the close harmonies and skeletal arrangements, but their ability to tug on the heartstrings is still very much in evidence.
Palomino is certainly a more upbeat record than the band’s previous album Ruins, which was dominated by the end of Klara’s relationship. That’s still a subject on Palomino – the chorus of Angel runs “I love you, even though you can’t love me”) but the mood this time round is more optimistic and defiant, rather than wistful. Indeed, tracks like The Last One are positively jaunty, celebrating new love with lines like “I want you to be the last one I ever love”.
Opening track Out Of My Head marks the Söderberg’s transition into full on rock-pop, with a chorus that becomes a real ear-worm, and a lovely synth-heavy production and the title track (which closes the album) is a stirring, driving anthem. Long-time fans need not worry though, for there are still the quieter moments that define First Aid Kit – Wild Horses II may in fact be the quintessential Söderberg song, a quiet, hushed duet about a couple on a road trip, arguing about whether The Rolling Stones or The Flying Burrito Brothers performed the best version of Wild Horses (providing the obligatory Gram Parsons reference).
Nobody Knows is another standout moment where the tempo is taken down a notch – swirling strings surrounding the Söderbergs voice, before it goes all spaghetti-western towards the end, with whistling and a quietly twanging guitar. It’s eerie and dramatic and works surprisingly well. A Feeling That Never Came also explores new territory, with a glam-rock riff and intricate handclaps that somehow recall T-Rex‘s Get It On.
There is, now and again, a tendency to lapse into blandness – Fallen Snow and 29 Palms Highway both don’t make too of an impression compared to the rest of the album, and there’s nothing that matches the emotional punch that songs like Emmylou or To A Poet provided so memorably a decade ago. Yet it’s fascinating to see how Palomino fits so neatly into First Aid Kit’s career trajectory – this is another very good, solid album from the Swedish siblings with a fair bit of typical brilliance scattered throughout.