2014 has so far proven to be a pretty big year for female Swedish quirk-pop. Lykke Li deftly dealt with some fairly heartbreaking sentiments on I Never Learn, Gothenburg’s Little Dragon dropped a sensually textured fourth album in Nabuma Rubberband and now we find ourselves treated to Stay Gold, the third LP from the Söderberg sisters of Stockholm – better known to the wider music community as country-tinged sweethearts First Aid Kit. With Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis once again sitting in the producer’s chair, it’s an expansion on 2012’s breakthrough The Lion’s Roar with some more lush arrangements underscoring the pair’s cutesy Nashville-influenced tales of love in your 20s.
The overall theme of Stay Gold is plain to see from the get-go, starting off with first single My Silver Lining – a gently plucked ode to the question “Do things ACTUALLY get easier in life, love and everything in between?” It’s imbued with some gorgeous swooping strings and an overall sheen that can best be described as a fictional Instagram filter called “Tennessee Sunset”. Master Pretender is a little chirpier musically with clarinet and mandolin flourishes accenting Johanna and Klara’s two-headed Zooey Deschanel shtick sympathetically and beautifully before the title track addresses the ephemeral nature of happiness and the doubt that seems to fester when things don’t pan out (“What if my hard work ends in despair?/What if the road won’t take me there?/Oh, I wish for once it could stay gold”).
Second single Cedar Lane loosely skirts with some jazz arrangement techniques and sounds like something Linda Ronstadt might have come up with at her most darkly nostalgic before the stark minimalism of Shattered & Hollow confirms the melancholy (“I am low/And I am lost/But I’d rather be broken than empty”) that seems to permeate most of Stay Gold. The flutes and bowed bass that weave in and out of The Bell bring a little something different to your run-of-the-mill country-folk waltz before it grows to a carousing end and Waitress Song indulges the dream most of us have that packing up and starting again somewhere else will fix everything.
Fleeting One is a fairly honest depiction of a relationship falling apart (“My love is a fleeting one/My man could be anyone/And our love is a setting sun”) and finding the resolve to soldier on alone whereas the rollicking freight-train of Heaven Knows steams on through with stomps, claps, Hammond organ, bells and the potential alternate title of “The Hoedown of Honesty and Self-Acceptance”. The album rounds out with A Long Time Ago – a tender piano ballad played through rose coloured glasses with lush, cinematic strings about a love that didn’t work and serves as a deliberately somber close to a record that explores some of the darker tropes of “adorkable” folk.
Stay Gold is definitely a step up musically for the Söderbergs, with the richer arrangements bolstering their particular brand of left-field folk-pop without getting in the way. While the record somewhat lags in the middle with a few too many “bummer” songs in a row, you can’t really blame the pair for writing what they know and overall, Stay Gold will keep fans happy and undoubtedly will win over more than a few more.