First Aid Kit are a folk duo composed of Johanna and Klara Söderberg, two sisters from Sweden. 'The Lion's Roar' is their sophomore album, after 2010's fantastic debut 'The Big Black & The Blue'. Famously difficult to pull off, the siblings have recorded a second LP that is packed full of emotion, and improves on a multitude of elements that I loved from their past releases. The two women have thrown a number of new instruments into the mix, strings and horns and piano and pedal-steels all joining the acoustic guitar, drums and auto-harp on these ten magnificent tracks. However many evolutions the instrumentation goes through though, First Aid Kits vocals will always be their best selling point. Pitch perfect and always tight when it comes to harmonies, the singing on 'The Lion's Roar' resonates with a weight not many can match. Reflective of the album art, there is that natural beauty folk music is forever striving to find, layered into a subtly surreal amalgamation of crooning, emotionally mature songs that pluck your heartstrings like the taut wires of an ethereal instrument. An insignificantly small number of complaints show up, but none shall bar my frequent return!
The title track opens the album, a melancholy vibe vibrating through the acoustics and an innate strength emerging from the vocals. The harmonies are so close, varying in pitch and tempo but never in quality. Slower moments hit the spot perfectly, the rebellious, Bob Dylan esque lyrical passages deep and moody and quietly profound. Its captivating to say the least, and leads excellently into 'Emmylou'. A four minute track of personal proportions and the boast of a sigh-inducing refrain make it one of my favourite numbers on here. You can almost taste salty tears as the singing trails off after every line, hitting beautiful notes! The instrumental on 'In The Hearts of Men' lends the truly climatic four minutes an air of sublime solemnity. The beat and build half way through are stand-out moments on the LP, a piercing whisper hitting home at the apex of such attenuated an ascension. The groove on 'Blue' is similarly well-executed, and the tale of loss relayed in 'This Old Routine' is one of almost overwhelming sadness. My small complaints however arrive with the second half of the album, though as I've mentioned, they hold no substantial barrier before your ears!
The refrain of 'I Found A Way' sounds surprisingly like the hook of 'Emmylou', though a fantastic set of lyrics and throbbing sincerity on 'Dance to Another Tune' makes up for this lacking individuality. The instrumentation on that track is also awe-inspiring, soft interludes of violin and harmonies soaring in a manner so shudder inducing even despite it dragging on for a little too long. That being said, the overriding element to 'The Lion's Roar' that in my opinion prevented it from becoming a classic was the instrumentation on a few tracks. I found the auto-harp on 'New Years Eve' ear-grating, offset only by the gorgeous vocals. A lack of personality and uniqueness from the instrumentation on a number of other songs just passed me by, failing to ignite any of the power and urgency you get from the singing and songwriting skills from these Söderberg sisters. Sometimes the two match, but often a sense of uninspired misplacement detracts from the tracks, even if only by a little. Overall, nothing is going to stop me reccomending or returning to 'The Lion's Roar', but it stops a little short of being utter perfection on account of the arranged instrumentation. Hear that commanding title track below, then I urge you to purchase the full release via iTunes here!