Folk duo First Aid Kit holds nothing back in showing off its new, glossy production style on its third album, Stay Gold.
The duo, consisting of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, brings its autobiographical storytelling and thought-provoking bluntness back to the table, but this time with pop sensibilities, razor-sharp production value, and a slew of new instruments. Also returning are the sisters’ tight vocal harmonies, now disappointingly muffled by the weight of the extra instrumentation.
As the opening track and lead single, “My Silver Lining” could serve as a mission statement for Stay Gold. A song of encouragement, “My Silver Lining” advises listeners to “try to keep on keepin’ on” when the world is at its worst. Lead singer Klara Söderberg transforms this simple concept into a relatable folk-pop single with admissions of her own self-doubt, telling listeners, “I’ve woken up in a hotel room/My worries as big as the moon.” The song contains the earnest lyrics of First Aid Kit’s previous material, gracefully infused with a string arrangement.
While previous efforts were acoustic guitar-centric, Stay Gold expands on that sound, introducing strings (“My Silver Lining”), piano (“A Long Time Ago”), and flute (“The Bell”). While these instruments give character to their respective songs, they don’t make any notable musical statements. They’re used as a means to add texture, and they meet that end, but the melodies they play are unimaginative, making much of Stay Gold feel tedious.
Though increased production value often signals the decline of a band’s initial, character-defining quality, there is no such absence on Stay Gold.
The blistering honesty that listeners have come to expect from First Aid Kit is alive and well in songs like “Heaven Knows,” in which Söderberg scolds a friend who has allowed his religion to overshadow his personality. The song’s confident, jumpy vocal lines mock the salvation for which Söderberg’s friend relentlessly seeks and reflect her dismissive attitude toward religion.
Stay Gold‘s title track elevates the basic idea of “nothing good can last” to an ominous folk anthem. In its chorus, “Stay Gold” questions whether pure intentions are enough to withstand life’s trials, asking, “What if to love and be loved’s not enough?/What if I fall and can’t bear to get up?/Oh I wish for once, I could stay gold.”
First Aid Kit’s thoughtful twists on common themes are a continuous upside to Stay Gold. “Cedar Lane” laments lost futures, but has a persistent hope that “something good will come out of this.” In “Shattered & Hollow” and “Fleeting One,” Söderberg ruminates on how touring has affected her relationships. The pictures painted aren’t cheery, but both endorse the idea that a life in flux is better than stagnant safety.
With its unforgiving frankness and new, unique instrumentation, Stay Gold presents fresh takes on classic folk themes.
While the new instruments add little more than texture, their predictability is a small flaw in comparison to the duo’s lyrical achievements. With its third LP, First Aid Kit proves that a step towards pop is not always a step away from sincerity, and that some things really can stay gold.
First Aid Kit – Stay Gold track list:
- “My Silver Lining”
- “Master Pretender”
- “Stay Gold”
- “Cedar Lane”
- “Shattered & Hollow”
- “The Bell”
- “Waitress Song”
- “Fleeting One”
- “Heaven Knows”
- “A Long Time Ago”